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Pamela Gentry

Pamela Gentry

Posted January 15, 2009 | 05:55 PM (EST)

Statewide Races a Challenge for Black Politicians?


The Republican Party, while still smarting from the losses in 2008, may find they'll need two new strategies in their arsenal if they want to turn things around: tame the rhetoric on the far right and diversify their candidates. One may be easier than the other but both will be critical if they want to start winning.

It looks like one Republican African-American is ready to help them out. Florida's former Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Marion Thorpe Jr., announced Wednesday he's going to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez (R). Thorpe's announcement came on the hills of Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek's (Fla.) announcement he was throwing his hat in the ring.

Both candidates are being ambitious. But, Meek may have a better shot as an African American Democrat than Thorp in a statewide race. Seeking a statewide office is tough, but it's been almost impossible for Black Republicans.

As recent as 2006, three African-Americans ran for high-profile statewide office on the Republican ticket and all were defeated by considerable margins. Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Pittsburgh Steelers Lynn Swan ran for governor of their home states Ohio and Pennsylvania, both were defeated. In Maryland, the former Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele ran for the vacant U.S. Senate and lost.

The Dems on the other hand were able to get a win in Massachusetts seating Gov. Duvall Patrick and former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford's defeat was by a narrow margin.

Meek, 42 is most likely looking at the 2006 races and the success of the President-elect Barack Obama in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida as an indicator he might do well running for Martinez's seat. Understandable, but it's really too soon for Black politicians to draw conclusions based on Obama's success.

Thorpe has had more statewide exposure in Florida because of his advocacy to improve the quality of the states health care system as the state's chief medical officer. But that experience didn't translate for him politically. He lost his bid to unseat Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) in 2008.

Both Meek and Thorpe will face challenges running for the Senate, and it will be refreshing and smart for both parties to have an African-American candidate in the running. It demonstrates both parties realize a strong candidate can come in any color.