By Hastings Wyman –
The last year that Republicans garnered a substantial share of the black vote was 1960, when Richard Nixon received the support of about one-third of the African-American electorate against John F. Kennedy. The 1964 GOP nomination of Barry Goldwater, who had voted against a major civil rights bill in Congress, killed any interest that black voters may have had in a significant presence in the Republican Party.
Despite hit-and-run efforts by various Republican candidates or groups over the years to attract African Americans to the GOP, there’s been little or no change in the half-century since Goldwater’s landslide loss to President Lyndon Johnson. In addition to civil rights issues, black voters in general prefer the Democrats’ more liberal economic policies to the Republicans’ fiscal conservatism.
This year there are a record number of black major party nominees for congressional or statewide office, a total of 104, according to information compiled by David Bositis, a leading expert on African Americans in politics. Of the 104, 52 are in the South. The region accounts for some 57% of the nation’s African Americans of voting age, the ratio is not far from what might be expected.
Of those 52 black candidates in the South, 45 are Democrats, to 7 Republicans. On the Democratic side, 17 are incumbent members of Congress. In addition, in North Carolina’s 12th District previously held by African American Mel Watt (D), who resigned to become President Obama’s Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, black state Rep. Alma Adams (D) is a safe bet to succeed Watt. (Note: Adams’s stylish hats are sure to give Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL) western-style chapeaux some serious competition.) But the 27 other black nominees, including a number running for statewide office, have little chance of victory this year.
The increasing number of African Americans on Southern ballots may have an impact on the turn-out, however, even if the number of black winners does not increase. In South Carolina, for example, Democrats are hopeful that the candidacy of Bakari Sellers, son of civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers, will help bring out black voters, perhaps helping elect state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) to unseat Gov. Nikki Haley (R).
For the GOP, only one of their seven black candidates is an incumbent, US Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a solid bet for reelection. There are no African-American Republicans in the US House from the South. Of the six black GOP nominees for the House, only one, former CIA agent Will Hurd in Texas 23 (San Antonio, etc.), has a significant chance of victory, and that’s iffy.
Thus, Bositis writes that the increasing number of black nominees isn’t likely to result in an increase in black officeholders. “[T]he fact is that many of the increases are occurring in states (especially in the South) where most whites are withdrawing from Democratic Party politics – leaving black candidates the nominations by default.”
Indeed, the best guess at this point is that after the election, the number of Southern black congressional seats will still be 18, all Democrats, or maybe 19, if Republican Hurd wins in Texas 23. As for statewide officeholders, despite the 13 black Democrats seeking statewide positions in the South, Republican US Sen. Tim Scott (SC) will remain the lone black statewide officeholder elected in Dixie this year.