The Fix Talks Back: Year of the African American Candidate?
There's never enough time to answer all of the good questions I get during my live online chats, but I can always answer a few more here in the blog.
Philadelphia: As a student at Morehouse College (an all African American and all male college in Atlanta), I am particularly excited about the emergence of serious African American candidates this year (Harold Ford in TN, Deval Patrick in MA, Michael Steele and Kweisi Mfume in MD, Lynn Swann in PA, Kenneth Blackwell in OH, etc.). Is this development an anomaly, or are we witnessing the beginning a radical change in the face of American politics?
The Fix: I think the trend you point out is one of the most intriguing developments in the 2006 cycle, especially because a number of the black candidates seeking statewide office are Republicans (Steele, Swann and Blackwell). The idea of more African Americans seeking major offices is nothing new (in 2004 the open Senate seat contest featured two black candidates) but it remains to be seen whether these candidates can break through and win. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) is the only black member of the Senate and only the third elected since Reconstruction. (Massachusetts Republican Sen. Edward Brooke and Illinois Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun were the others.) Doug Wilder is the only African American to be elected governor in U.S. history, having served as Virginia's chief executive from 1989 to 1993.
The coming election will be an interesting proving ground to test whether Obama's victory in 2004 threw the door wide open for black candidates or not.
Portland, Ore.: Chris: I think a pretty good case can be made that, historically, the major party nominees for president turn out not to be the persons who generate the most passion or excitement, but the ones who are the least objectionable to the largest number of people. This is especially true, I think, when a race is fairly wide open; it seems the winner is often the person who, in addition to whatever core supporters they have, shows up most often as everyone's second choice Do you think there is anything to this theory? If so and you apply this test of being the favorite second choice, whose prospects brighten and whose dim in 2008?
The Fix: Interesting theory. I have a similar operating assumption that the battle for the presidential nomination in both parties comes down to a battle of head versus heart. In the 2004 Democratic primaries, the heart of the Democratic Party was clearly with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean but the head won out in the end as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was the nominee. Four years earlier the head vote for George W. Bush beat back the heart vote (although not the hearts of many conservatives) of Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Applied to 2008, the head vote for Democrats is presumably the most viable candidate other than New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- a list that should include Kerry, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. Clinton is clearly the heart candidate even though she has run into rough patches with the Democratic base over her stance on the Iraq war among other issues. While recent history would seem to bode well for a Warner or Bayh, one needs only look back to 1992 -- the last time a Clinton was seeking an open Democratic presidential nomination. The head vote was clearly against Bill Clinton, who had battled through repeated charges of marital infidelity in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. But, Clinton better than any Democrat of recent vintage could speak to voters' hearts and won enough over to not only win the nomination but also the presidency.
Washington, D.C.: So, just how toxic are the POTUS and VPOTUS to Republicans up for reelection/election in November? First we see N.J. Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. dodge Dick Cheney at a fundraiser. Then we see the President show up in Ohio without any Congressional hangers on. Is this something that is going to get even more noticeable as the election season heats up?
The Fix: I touched yesterday on how active both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been of late in terms of raising dollars for House and Senate candidates.
While these candidates are more than willing to take the hundreds of thousands of dollars that an appearance by Bush or Cheney is sure to generate, they are less willing to appear at events with the two men. No one should be surprised by that dichotomy as politicians at their core are survivors and with the President's approval numbers mired in the 30s it does little good for an aspiring Republican to tie themselves too closely to him.
It remains to be seen whether taking dollars raised by Bush or Cheney will negatively impact Republican candidates. In recent history, voters have shown little interest in where a candidate's financial backing comes from -- whether it's one's own pocket or from top leaders in either party.
Read the full transcript of my Post Politics Hour appearance.
March 28, 2006; 4:56 PM ET
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