Someone mentioned that since Barack Obama became President, there are no longer any elected Black senators or governors (Gov. Paterson in New York was installed in response to Gov. Spitzer’s resignation; Sen. Roland Burris was appointed to fill Obama’s seat). Why, though, are Blacks so unsuccessful at seeking statewide office? In the House, Blacks comprise a fraction almost proportional to their general population proportions (9.5% in the House; 13% generally).
Latinos (Govs. Sandoval and Martinez; various Senators) and Asian-Americans (Govs. Haley and Jindal; Sens. Inouye and Akaka) have had more success in recent years, despite similar problems — gerrymandering, for example.
So, why does this happen? A few hypotheses:
- Gerrymandering pushes Black House members too far to the left: Most Black Representatives come from districts that are majority-black, and these districts also tend to be urban heavily Democratic districts that push the left spectrum of the party line, thus making them even less palatable to the median voter.
- BUT: How do you explain the success of white rural conservatives, who often come from districts as far on the right side of the spectrum as urban districts? Why aren’t they punished for their conservatism? (Consider, say, Sam Brownback.) Why wouldn’t a Black candidate be successful in a similarly liberal state (New York, say)?
- Majority-Black districts tend to be in big states: The barriers to entry in state-wide races in big states are bigger — more fund-raising required, more statewide organization, and more pull within the state party apparatus. Again, the odds seem long for a Representative with a comfortable margin of victory every year having the organization within the state party to guarantee the nomination.
- BUT: How do you explain the success of Latinos, who presumably suffer from similar circumstances? Mel Martinez and Marco Rubio have been successful in Florida, while Ken Salazar represented Colorado and Bob Menendez represents New Jersey, all of which are in the top half of states by popualtion.
- Latent racism against Black politicians: Possible, or at least some variation thereof. For example, people may consider Black politicians more radical than their counterparts, despite similar policy platforms. (Compare reactions to Herman Cain with reactions to Rick Santorum, say.) Additionally, Black politicians may face increased scrutiny from rural and suburban whites, who would be essential in any statewide race. Latent racism would probably be most detrimental in statewide Southern races (see the Alabama gubernatorial Democratic primary in 2010). Media representations of Black candidates can reinforce this latent racism.
- BUT: The Bradley Effect has largely vanished, and Barack Obama’s presidential election victory suggests that racism is not an insurmountable barrier, especially in liberal states that one imagines Black Democratic candidates could win (New Jersey or Massachusetts, say).
- Bad demographic luck: Of the top ten states in proportion of African-Americans, seven are in the old Confederacy, and Tennessee is close. Because of party affiliation barriers, ideological fissures, and latent racism, Blacks cannot get traction in these states.
- BUT: Shouldn’t they at least do OK in states like Maryland, Delaware, Florida, New York, and Illinois, that aren’t quite as Old South? And why aren’t there more successful Black Republicans from the Old South states? There are Latino Republicans despite the national immigration policy. Does history of southern white racism run that deep?
There might be other reasons, too, such as broader party affiliation (Blacks tend to be heavily Democratic, even moreso than other demographic subsets).
I think some combination of the above probably does it, but it’s hard to say the exact chemistry of it. Consider the prime counterexample — Barack Obama — who was elected in a statewide, then nationwide race. He never represented a House district, so he could never be pulled heavily left by the local party. He never had a record to trail him as he ran for Senate (#1). He ran in a big state, but he lucked out when his opponents either disappeared (Jim Ryan) or became jokes (Alan Keyes) (#2). The state apparatus was glad to have Obama rather than scandal-plagued Ryan. Latent racism is less of a problem in Illinois, one of the more currently reliable liberal states (# 3 and 4). Additionally, latent racism may have simply diminished over the years (as compared to, say, the response of the country to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign).
Anyone have any better ideas?