Businessman and possible GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain delightedly told a group of conservative New Hampshire Republicans that they shouldn't blame him for a "bad" black president. The alleged "bad" black president of which Cain spoke is President Obama. Cain ripped Obama not because of anything specific Obama had done to raise his ire but to distance him as a potential black presidential contender from Obama. The former CEO of Godfather's Pizza's noise box remark about Obama was obviously intended to make clear that he shouldn't be held accountable because he's black for Obama's alleged failing as president. Cain's preemptive racial strike to deflect race from being an issue if he runs raises two intriguing questions. The first is: will voters, especially white conservatives that Cain is aggressively courting, hold him to the same alleged low standard as a presidential candidate that they regard Obama? Cain banks that they won't. But the evidence is against him on this.
In a 2006 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, a Yale political economist found that in 2006 House races, Democrats were nearly 40 percent less likely to back a black Democratic candidate than a white Democrat. The shift by conservative-centrist white Democrats to GOP presidential contenders is a staple in recent American politics. The first big hint that conservative white Democrats could cause problems for Obama came in the Democratic primary in Ohio during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary slugfest. Hillary Clinton beat out Obama in the primary and she did it mainly with white votes. But that wasn't the whole story. Nearly one quarter of whites in Ohio flatly said race did matter in voting. Presumably that meant that they would not vote for a black candidate no matter how politically attractive or competent he was.
An even bigger hint of Obama's race problem in the 2008 Democratic primaries came in Pennsylvania's primary. The voter demographics in the state perfectly matched those in Ohio. A huge percentage of Pennsylvania voters are blue collar, anti-big government, socially conservative, pro defense, and intently patriotic, and there's a tormenting history of a racial polarization in the state. Take the state's two big, racially diverse cities out of the voter equation and Pennsylvania would be rock solid red state. Clinton, of course, trounced Obama in the state. The same percentage of white Democrats as in Ohio told exit poll interviewers in Pennsylvania that they would not back Obama. Race was the prime reason.
Clinton racked up victories in the West Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota primaries. Again, a significant percentage of white Democrats said they would not back Obama, and the reason was race. This time many white Democrats made no effort to hide their racial animus toward Obama.
This raises the second intriguing question about Cain's chances with voters. If Obama had problems keeping many Democrats in the Democratic fold for him in the primaries, would Cain fare any better with Republicans in the 2012 Republican primary battles?
The 2006 Yale study also found that white Republicans were 25 percentage points more likely to cross over and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate against a black Republican foe. The study also found that in the near twenty year stretch from 1982 to 2000, when the GOP candidate was black, the greater majority of white independent voters backed the white candidate.
This appeared to change in the November 2010 mid-term elections. Black GOP congressional candidates Allen West in Florida and Tim Scott in South Carolina got a majority of white votes and easily beat their Democratic opponents. But West and Scott won in lockdown GOP districts, and against weak, underfunded, Democratic opponents. Their wins were regional wins with absolutely no national implications.
Former three-term New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, one time chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush and previously chair of New Hampshire's GOP has his finger firmly on the inner pulse of the GOP conservative and mainstream. He dropped a big hint what Cain's likely fate would be among conservatives if he ever managed to get out the GOP presidential contender box. He said he was willing to listen to Cain but said that his pick for the GOP 2012 presidential contender would have to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan as well as a politician with experience.
Cain is not Reagan redux. And his one term failed bid in 2004 for the senate in Georgia certainly doesn't qualify him as a politician with any practical experience.
Cain, though, has followed the conservative script to the letter. He calls for big slashes in government spending, dumping much of the income tax, a strong military, and he's a stalwart evangelical defender in the values and culture wars. And he takes every opportunity he can to slam Obama. But Calling Obama a bad black president won't likely make conservatives think he'll be any better as a black president, let alone vote for him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on blogtalkradio.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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