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A very tough election for black candidates not named Obama

President Obama won a second term last week, but it wasn't a great week for other African-American candidates.

Despite Obama's big win, there remain no black senators, only one African-American was even nominated for major statewide office, and black candidates lost seven of eight competitive House races -- six of them by very close margins.

Mia Love lost her bid to become the first black Republican woman in Congress, despite late polls that showed her ahead by as much as double digits. (Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune)

The end result: the number of African-Americans in the House will likely remain the same in 2013 as it was this Congress.

As of this weekend, three of the eight House races that had yet to be called featured black Republicans. All of them appear to have lost.

Two of those House races ended just in the last couple of days, with Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Arizona GOP candidate Vernon Parker both losing by very small margins.

The same was true in Utah, where GOP rising star Mia Love under-performed late polls and lost to Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah). Love, who would have been the first black Republican congresswoman, conceded on election night, though the race has yet to be called by AP.

Another much-hyped candidate on the Democratic side, Val Demings, closed late in her race with Rep. Dan Webster (R-Fla.) but came up short. Also in Florida, former state senator Al Lawson (D) lost to Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.).

These five candidates lost by an average of 2.8 points, and none lost by more than 5 points.

Meanwhile, two black candidates in lower-tier races also came close, with Gloria Tinubu getting 45 percent in the race for South Carolina's new 7th district and John Ewing getting 49 percent against Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). Ewing's near-miss was totally unexpected, as neither national party spent money in Terry's district. Tinubu was never expected to win in her conservative-leaning district.

The only big winner in a hotly contested race on Tuesday was Nevada state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D), who survived a scare from Republican Danny Tarkanian in a new, Democratic-leaning district.

African-American candidates did win competitive Democratic primaries earlier this year for new seats in Ohio (Joyce Beatty) and Texas (Marc Veasey). But the results Tuesday, combined with losses by Reps. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) and Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) to white Democratic incumbents in merged districts, mean the House will continue to have 44 African-American members.

And given the chances they had last Tuesday, that was about the worst-case scenario.

(At the statewide level, the only African-American running in a governor or Senate race was Republican Vermont state Sen. Randy Brock, who never had much of a chance against Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and lost by 20 points.)

David Bositis, an expert on African-American politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said despite the close losses, there is reason for hope.

"Most years, black candidates get either large votes -- 75 percent-plus -- or small votes --10-30 percent," Bositis said. "This year, there were quite a few black candidates who lost but got between 45 and 50 percent of the vote, which is very respectable."

It's true: both parties nominated African-Americans in some of the most competitive districts in the country, which rarely happened in the past.

But on Tuesday, almost all of those candidates came up just short.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Sean Sullivan · November 14, 2012

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