For the first post-racial President, Obama has not done much to aid minority candidates seeking higher office. Indeed, the Democratic bench of minority candidates for state executive or federal office is minimalist at best. This stands in stark contrast to a Republican bench of minority candidates that is strong despite struggling with winning minority votes. The Democrats four statewide federal or executive candidates, New Jersey Senators Corey Booker and Bob Menendez, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick look unlikely to have further political aspirations. Republicans have Governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Martina Susana (NM), Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL) and Tim Scott (SC). The party is now sure to see Mia Love, the nation’s first Mormon, female African-American join its House ranks after November and in Oklahoma, State House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Native American, has a real shot to win the Senate special election to replace retiring Tom Coburn.
GOP efforts to push these candidates of late has been a mix of establishment support to remake the party’s image among the public (Tim Scott) and Tea party support of upstart candidates (Rubio and Cruz). These candidates cut across the ideological spectrum of the GOP. Sandoval cuts the mold of a moderate, Martinez a conservative, Rubio establishment and Scott and Cruz anti-establishment figures. What is notable is that Democrats do not have a similar dynamic.
In 2008 and 2012 African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians overwhelmingly supported President Obama over John McCain and Mitt Romney. But this did not result in a new wave of minority candidates reaching office. Rather, Menendez has been in office for decades, Booker was elected in the anti-Bush wave election of 2006 and Corey Booker won a special election in New Jersey in 2011. Hirono was elected in 2012 during the Presidential election.
Democrats seem to have placed a much larger emphasis on courting female candidates rather than minority candidates. For example, in the competitive Senate races in Kentucky and Georgia, Democrats have touted Allison Grimes and Michelle Nunn, both white females. In the botched FL-13 Congressional District recruiting fiasco, Democrats spurned a minority candidate in local NAACP Chapter President Manuel Sykes for a better looking candidate. That candidate dropped out for embellishing his resume and Sykes has no interest in reentering the race.
None of this can be laid directly at the President’s feet. He does not run the party’s recruitment efforts. But for a candidate that won an astounding 80% of the minority vote in 2008 and 2012 that margin of victory has not aided nor encouraged many minority candidates to step up and run. Rather, it seems that during Obama’s tenure the party has taken a step back in promoting minority candidates.
In Michigan the state party shunned selecting any nominees from urban Detroit in an effort to better appeal to suburban and rural voters in the state. In Hawaii, Governor Neil Ambercrombie shunned Congresswomen Colleen Hanubusa in favor of his Lt. Governor, Brian Schatz, for the seat. Ambercrombie might be suffering backlash as he trails the Hawaiian GOP candidate for Governor. Notably, the President endorsed Schatz over Hanubusa. Hanabusa is waging a primary campaign against Schatz and has a decent shot at upsetting the establishment.
Minority candidates have made great strides since the start of the new decade, running for higher office but it has largely come within the Republican party. This contrasts with the image the Democratic party is creating of the GOP as the party that wants to ban minorities and the young from voting. Minorities could make an electoral stride in 2014 in Hawaii and Corey Booker is sure to be elected to a full term this November in New Jersey but Republicans appear set to allow minority candidates to make greater strides. In the era of Obama minorities have made great strides but they have come within the Republican Party!