“In the shadow of Barack Obama, there’s not been a lot of growth,” Cornell Belcher, a pollster who was involved in the president’s 2008 campaign, said. “It is really hard for minorities to get elected at the statewide level, and before you start talking about president, frankly, you have to get elected to statewide office.”
The notion of a post-Obama reformation of black politics has not been borne out at the ballot box, as black politicians continue to struggle to win the statewide offices that are the traditional paths to the presidency.
While the election of the first black president marked a significant break from the country’s history of racial prejudice, race still matters: The vast majority of black elected officials are put into office by black voters. Even Obama needed large numbers of black and Latino votes to win, particularly last year, when a majority of whites voters voted for someone else.
Ashley Bell, a former county official in Georgia who switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party with an eye on a future run for statewide office, said that Obama “did convince a lot of young black politicians that they can aspire to crossover offices. We may not live in a post-racial America, but I think we do live in a new era of politics where, on either side of the aisle, everyone knows that a good political candidate is one with crossover appeal, be they white or black or Latino.”
While the country’s changing demographics will favor political leaders of color in the future, the current landscape remains challenging for minority candidates seeking statewide office, particularly governorships and U.S. Senate seats, the typical steppingstones to presidential bids.
Deval L. Patrick (D-Mass.) currently is the nation’s only black governor, and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is the only black member of the Senate, having recently been appointed to fill a vacancy.
Patrick, 56, is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, but he has said he has no plans to run in 2016. No other black politicians’ names have come up on the short list of credible contenders for the next national election.
On the GOP side of the aisle, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has been mentioned as a possible candidate but has steadfastly denied any interest. Colin Powell, who preceded Rice as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, was once a favored GOP prospect, but he also declined to run.
Most recently, Herman Cain, a black Georgia businessman, was briefly a hit among Republican grass-roots activists in the run-up to the primaries, but he dropped his candidacy after a woman revealed a longtime extramarital affair and other women accused him of sexual harassment.