09/18/2006 04:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Black Governor for Massachusetts?

Tuesday, September 19th could be an historic day in African American politics and most political observers have ignored why. That is the day when Massachusetts Democrats elect their gubernatorial nominee. With all the attention given to the gubernatorial bids of prominent African American Republicans Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively, you would think they were the only Black major party nominees for state chief executive positions but they aren't. Deval Patrick, who has been lost in much of the national attention on Black candidates for statewide office around the country, may well be more likely to win his state's top position than either Blackwell or Swann.

Patrick, a former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration, has a double-digit lead in two polls released last week. He also looks strong for the general election, as he leads Lt. Governor Kerry Healey by 10 percentage points in the most recent Rasmussen poll. Healey, running with the endorsement of outgoing Governor Mitt Romney, is struggling as a Republican in a Democratic state and with the national mood toward Republicans; President Bush stands at 32 percent approval in the Bay State. The political tide is turning in favor of Democrats around the nation and Patrick is poised to ride the wave to the governorship.

The race could be a dream matchup for political junkies: an African American man versus a Republican woman. It could be a contest that confounds prognosticators and pollsters alike. Could Democratic women be attracted by the notion of electing the first woman as governor of Massachusetts? Could Republican men be turned off by the possibility of a woman as governor and instead vote for a Democratic man who is also Black?

Massachusetts, particularly its capital city of Boston, has at times had a complicated racial history so a Patrick victory in November would represent a tremendous milestone in American politics. On one hand, Massachusetts elected the last African American Republican, Edward Brooke, to serve in the U.S. Senate. On the other hand, Boston was the mid-1970s epicenter of White riots and violence following a federal court ruling mandating busing as a means of desegregating the city's public schools. Many remember the famous photograph of a Black man in a three-piece suit being held by one White rioter as another White rioter jammed an American-flag draped flagpole in the Black man's chest. The image came to characterize racial animosities in Boston and led many to conclude that the city and, by extension the state, could not reconcile itself with the changing winds of race relations. Now, this same state may elect an African American to its highest office. That would be progress, indeed.

Republicans, in their public courtship of Black voters, recently have lobbed the charge that the Democrats take African Americans for granted. The charge is designed to divert attention from the Grand Old Party's abysmal record with African Americans and its inability to attract voters with its own program. So, in addition to being history making, a Patrick victory would go a long way toward helping Democrats rebut their Republican critics. The Democrats' response would be all the sweeter if favored Black Republican statewide candidates such as Blackwell and Swann, and Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele all lose.