African American GOP Senator Tim Scott was renominated by South Carolina Republicans, and is expected to win handily in the 2014 election. House Speaker T. W. Shannon is in the running for an open seat in Oklahoma for the U.S. Senate.
Are African American Republicans only now becoming viable candidates, or has it always been that way?
Voters may not remember it, but there is a precedent for African American candidates from the Republican Party. Of course, for many years, the GOP was “The Party of Lincoln” for blacks, while Southern Democrats were often linked to the KKK. But most may not remember Senator Edward Brooke. He was a Massachusetts Attorney General who won two terms in the U.S. Senate in 1966 and 1972, and would have won a third term if it wasn’t for a messy divorce and a competent Democratic candidate: Rep. Paul Tsongas.
But throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, African American candidates for statewide office were little more than sacrificial lambs. James Brannen was blown out by Abe Ribicoff in Connecticut in 1974. William Lucas was destroyed by Gov. James Blanchard in Michigan in 1986. Rev. Maurice Dawkins only managed 28.8 percent of the vote against Chuck Robb for an open U.S. Senate seat. Rep. Gary Franks couldn’t unseat Sen. Christopher Dodd in 1998. And don’t forget Alan Keyes and his three failed attempts for the U.S. Senate in 1988, 1992 and 2004. He never even came close.
Even in the 2000s, it did not start so well for Republican candidates for Governor and Senator who were African American. Jack E. Robinson III got 13 percent against Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2000. Herman Cain lost a primary race against Johnny Isakson in Georgia in 2004. And Marvin Scott couldn’t manage much against Sen. Evan Bay in Indiana in 2004.
In 2006, Republicans went all out to recruit top African American candidates. They got Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to run for governor in Ohio. Lt. Governor Michael Steele ran for an open U.S. Senate seat in Maryland. And former Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Lynn Swann challenged Gov. Ed Rendell. But though all lost, all stayed within a few percentage points of white Republicans on the same ballot, and outperformed other white GOP candidates who lost in nearby states, as electoral research shows.
The GOP wisely kept looking for recruiting options for African American candidates. And they could be rewarded with two African American Senators, one more than Democrats currently have, which would undercut charges of racism leveled against the Republican Party.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.