Many post-civil rights and Generation X black political leaders have demonstrated the political and cultural dexterity to move up to statewide office, sometimes in states that have very small black populations, such as Colorado, where 4.3 percent of the residents are black.
Two years ago, Kamala Harris, who is of African-American and Indian-American descent, was elected attorney general of California, a first in a statewide race. Blacks make up only 6.6 percent of state’s population. She is often talked about as a future gubernatorial candidate.
But in Alabama, where black residents make up 26.5 percent of the population, Davis lost his primary for governor in 2010. Similarly, Thurbert Baker lost in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia, where nearly a third of the residents are black. Baker had been elected state attorney general three times.
For those who manage to win their party’s nominations, general elections have proven to be be extreme long shots.
Johnny DuPree won the Mississippi Democratic primary for governor in 2011, the first African American to do so in recent history. DuPree, 59, the first black mayor of Hattiesburg, lost to his Republican opponent in the general election by 20 percentage points.
Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, said black candidates in the South, most of who are Democrats, are disadvantaged as much by their party as by their race.
“Georgia and Alabama don’t have any Democrats in statewide office. None,” said Bullock said. “If you’re running statewide and you’re a Democrat, regardless of your ethnicity or your gender, you’re going to lose.”
More than half of the country’s African Americans live in the South, and continued demographic changes could upend its politics over the next two decades. Several states are projected to have populations mostly comprised of people of color.
Already there are signs. Bullock said that in 1996, whites cast 78 percent of all votes; in 2008, the percentage was down to 64 percent.
Bullock said voter rolls show that whites made up less than 60 percent of registered voters in Georgia last year.
Those nonwhite voters will most likely back Democrats, Bullock said. “Unless the Republicans come up with a broader, more encompassing message, all they will succeed in getting is white voters, but they will ultimately run out of white voters.”
“The demographics are changing in favor of minority candidates,” said Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center. In addition to population growth among Latinos and Asians, Kohut pointed to a generational change in attitudes about race.
“It’s simple: Generational demographics really favor minority candidates,” he said.