Cain's race not as big an issue with conservatives as Obama's was three years ago
October 13th, 2011
09:22 PM ET
3 years ago

Cain's race not as big an issue with conservatives as Obama's was three years ago

(CNN) - Three years after the nation elected its first African-American president, the Republican Party could make its own history - given his rising poll numbers and raised awareness among voters and in the press, Herman Cain is the first African-American to have a real shot at becoming the Republican presidential nominee.

So why isn't Cain's ethnicity as much a part of his story as it was with Obama?

For one, many conservatives decry the focus on a candidate's race as an obsession for liberals.

"I think that his supporters are more focused on who he is and his principles," Luke Livingston told CNN. Livingston is the executive producer of the 2009 documentary, "The Tea Party Movie."

"Regardless of your race, whether you're Hispanic, black, white, Jew, Gentile whatever – you get up on that platform and you talk about the principles of our founding fathers and people look past race," Livingston added.

"Now the Left is going to put that out front."

There's a second reason that some conservatives, particularly tea partiers, largely ignore Cain's race: it drives a stake through claims that the movement harbors racists.

Last summer, the nation's oldest civil rights group – the NAACP – lashed spectacular claims that the tea party was not doing enough to dispel racism. Amid vehement denials from the tea party, that notion has taken hold with some of the movement's critics.

Meanwhile, Cain has long been a tea party favorite. A former radio talk show host, Cain has been a sought-after speaker at many rallies, is frequently praised by tea party members, and even won the Tea Party Patriots' presidential straw poll at their first summit in Phoenix, Arizona, in February.

Cain won nearly 22 percent of the nearly 1,600 votes cast at the summit. Texas Rep. Ron Paul won nearly half the votes cast by more than 2,300 online registered attendees.

"The mood at this summit shows that Tea Party activists are looking for leaders who share our principles of fiscal responsibility and limited government and who will vow to uphold policies that reflect those principles once in office," Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said at the time.

Livingston said he thinks "people are encouraged that there are black conservatives, because the tea party has been labeled as racist ….But I don't think [tea partiers] are making it a big deal."

Martin echoed a similar sentiment. Her group is the nation's largest in the tea party movement.

"I think that having an African-American with so much tea party support does show that, yeah – it's another example that the tea party movement is not racist," Martin said. "[It shows] that we're looking at the issues and we're not looking at skin color."

Time magazine's Michael Crowley told CNN's "John King, USA" that while Cain's skin color isn't central to his candidacy, it does have its appeal.

It's something that conservatives really like about him," Crowley said. "To have someone like Herman Cain come out to kind of fight back and to have a black man saying this is exaggerated, it's overstated, the Republican Party is not racist and a different set of possibilities for what you could have from a black candidate I think really does energize a lot of white conservatives."

Cain's race hasn't totally been ignored, though.

Recently, in an interview with MSNBC, host Lawrence O'Donnell pressed Cain: Why didn't he participate in the civil rights movement?

Cain answered: "I was a high school student. The college students were doing the sit-ins. The college students were doing the freedom rides. If I had been a college student I probably would have been participating."

During a recent interview with CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley – host of CNN's "State of the Union" – Cain said that African-Americans "weren't held back because of racism."

"People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve," Cain added.

Cain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that blacks had been "brainwashed" into not considering a conservative point of view.

And in a radio interview with conservative host Neal Boortz, Cain said the attention on his being a black conservative are "racist," in and of itself.

"A lot of these liberal, leftist folk in this country, that are black, they're more racist than the white people that they're claiming to be racist," the candidate said.

"How dare Herman Cain, first, run as a Republican? How dare Herman Cain be conservative? And how dare he move up in the polls, so that he just might challenge our beloved Obama? That's the problem they have."

Then Cain essentially waded into the "who's more black" controversy – him or Obama.

"He's never been part of the black experience in America," Cain said. "I can talk about that. I can talk about what it really meant to be 'po' before I was poor."

Conservative radio hosts took that a step further.

"Herman Cain, if he became president, he would be the first black president,"Laura Ingraham said last week on her show. "Does he have a white mother, white father, grandparents? No, right?"

"Herman Cain could be our first authentically black president," fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh also said recently. Limbaugh theorized that, in 2008, some liberals challenged Obama's ethnic authenticity given that his mother was white and his father was not African-American, but an African from Kenya.

These barbs from frequent Obama flame-throwers are surely meant as an intentional diss. By any reasonable measure, the president holds the title of being the first African-American to occupy the White House.

But what is also true is that Cain's candidacy in the Republican presidential race also carries a historic imprint.


Filed under: 2012 • Herman Cain
soundoff (486 Responses)
  1. Skegeeace

    I'm not convinced at all that race isn't an issue. It's a bit naive to make a sweeping declaration that now everybody is singing Kumbya and nobody has racial issues.

    October 14, 2011 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  2. Dave

    I'd prefer a politician over a businessman any day.
    As a side note: It's nice to see a variety of people like him running for office, even though I don't agree with most of his positions.

    October 14, 2011 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  3. ThinkAgain

    Cain will never get the GOP nomination; he's just being used to divide the black electorate that went for President Obama. Romney will get the nod, since Parry has imploded. Romney will still be a tough sell, given that he's a Mormon and the GOP base thinks Mormons belong to a cult. Romney will just have to continue bending over to prove what a strong conservative he is, all his past contradictory statements and actions notwithstanding.

    October 14, 2011 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. Rob from NC

    First of all, having one black friend does not automatically disqualify you from being racist. Racism is not measured by the company we keep, it is measured by ones actions. It is irritating to read Tea Party supporters trumpeting Cain as the end/solution to allegations of racism at their gatherings. It actually sounds even more prejudiced because it looks like he is being used as a 'token' minority.

    Secondly, what is the deal with the quotes early on about "not seeing race, but the liberals do" follwed very quickly by "Cain will actually be our first real African-American because Obama is only half". Come on guys, that's just stupid.

    October 14, 2011 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  5. mb2010a

    Cain is not able...

    October 14, 2011 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. TXJim

    Who cares.. This time next year Herman Cain will be an afterthought..

    October 14, 2011 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. kay

    HOW DO YOU DARE TO USE THIS HEADING: Cain's race not as big an issue with conservatives as Obama's was three years ago !!!
    "NOT AS BIG" ?
    Obama's color was NEVER an issue with an absolute majority of conservatives ! And if it was a color issue – -it was that he his RED !

    October 14, 2011 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  8. once upon a horse

    @ Jimbo......
    yeah race was NEVER an issue with Obama and the GOP..which is why Rush Limbaugh played "Barrack the Magic Negro" on his radio program. Gotta love that ol' liberal Rush!

    October 14, 2011 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. Bruce Baker

    Cain has said his 999 plan will create jobs, It will, I'm retired on a fixed income, worked all my life to be in a stable retirement life style and with his plan, I WLL HAVE TO GET A JOB TO PAY MY TAXES. Rise up retirees strike this plan down!!!

    October 14, 2011 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  10. mod52@bellsouth.net

    You'd have to be a total moron to vote for anyone who has never held any political office. Especillay this guyk. You might as well vote for me. I have plenty of great ideas but unfortunately I've never come close to having the opportunity to be the CEO of anything. Oh that's right. This guy says it's the individuals fault if they're not rich. Once he gets out the 999 thing, you'll see he has no idea about foreign affairs, (does anyone?), or any other matters not involving 999. And speaking of race, I don't think many African-Americans are going to vote for someone who said blacks use racism as an excuse for not being better off, (in other words) or "held back".

    October 14, 2011 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  11. cyman99al

    If you have a flat tax you do away with the loopholes that allow corporations to hide money.

    October 14, 2011 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  12. DEMOCRAT LATINOS FOR CAIN

    We love a person who is a straight talker and honest, he will be a great president for this country. Mr. Cain is not using race to get ahead. We, are tired of white Liberals who are so arrogant and try to control for who minorities should vote. White liberals think by kissing ass to blacks and allowing them to be demanding and intimidating to others will make them look tolerant and accepting, that's BS , do not be so cowards and stand up for your rights not to be attacked by the bullies

    October 14, 2011 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  13. AshSays

    All I have to say is if anyone living in America can honestly say (and believe) that racism either doesn't exist here anymore, doesn't effect some minorities lives and progress, and just their all around happiness as people...you're either lying to yourself or living in a bubble. As a professional African American woman in my late 20's (I give my age so you don't think I'm talking about the 60's or something) who's called the "N" word several times a week – whether in person or on the internet – I can assure you racism is alive and well. There's no way I would EVER vote for Cain...he should be ashamed of himself.

    Thanks for being honest Lost in Tx, I hope you get out.
    --------------------------
    Lost in Texas FOREVER
    I live in the REDDEST state in the union, plenty of far right conservatives down here and this is one thing I know for sure......if you talk the talk they they like to hear they could care less what color you are. Not sure how much in private Cain may believe in all the stuff he talks, but it works with the far right public sector. And it also helps them get away from the so-called "white guilt" they claimed help put Obama in office in 2008. They can vote for a black guy who is like them and then claim "see I'm not racist". It's like that far right couple that claims they have a black friend or they listen to Motown music or let their kid have Micheal Jordan posters on his wall. Trust me things have not really changed much here.

    October 14, 2011 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  14. Donnie

    IIt is sad that I have been trying to research Cain, and the hottest topic is his race. I want to know what he stands for, not whether or not each party is racist. Everyone knows the older the generation, the more racist (generally speaking). It is just a sign of the times each group grew up in. Get over it and talk about the facts. We need to come together and save our country, because it is all of ours, black,white, hispanic, asian, middle eastern, etc. We all decide to call this country home, be proud of it and all who are here.

    October 14, 2011 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  15. BruntLIVE

    It's still an issue CNN, people just hide it better. Racist actions(legislation) have more impact than Racist words. The Tea party knows this.

    October 14, 2011 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  16. Al

    The dislike for Obama has little to do with him being black (or half black for that matter), and even less with him being a Muslim, more to do with his idiocy, shared largely by other Democrats. That said, Paul is the answer to this country.

    October 14, 2011 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. legoman

    It's time to end the discrimination...against bald presidents. Go Herman!

    October 14, 2011 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  18. Columbus

    Race isn't an issue????? I'm white as new fallen snow and I know better than that.

    October 14, 2011 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  19. Jon Trott

    Really? "Race not as big an issue"? Sigh... only if you understand racism as simply a matter of skin tone. Our nation has been racist since at least 1611 or so when 19 black slaves were delivered in Jamestown. We've had Civil Rights legislation in place since the late 1950s... and that in pieces, won in hard fought struggles over a period stretching into at least the early 1970s. And here we are, looking at a country with an incredibly reactionary tilt to it, suggesting "race isn't as big an issue." Uh-huh. I'm a white male, and should be the last to know what I do... namely, that your headline is misinformation.

    October 14, 2011 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  20. Garet821

    Actualy, Cain has a chance to be the first black president. Obama is half white raised by a white mother. We've been judging him by the color of his skin. Best of luck to Cain!

    October 14, 2011 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  21. O.T.

    How was race an issue in 2008? The story, in fact, was that race was not an issue. Of course, CNN missed the real story. It always does.

    October 14, 2011 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  22. Tom in San Diego

    Go Mr. Cain...Its about time we had a genuine leader in the White House!

    October 14, 2011 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  23. NoTags

    As soon as people who live on Social Security figure out they will have 9% less purchasing power with Cain's 9-9-9 plan he's through.

    He's now throwing around his "potential" Vice-President names like DeMint and Ryan hoping to win tea party support. Give it up Herman, your pizzas were terrible, just like your plans.

    October 14, 2011 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  24. William Tucker

    I would say race ranks about 4th or 5th among the reasons conservatives are embracing Herman Cain. They are, in order: 1) he's a conservative, unlike Jon Huntsman, 2) he's a successful business man and knows how to do math, unlike Rick Perry, 3) he's never held elective office and hasn't spent too much time in Washington, unlike Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, 4) he didn't inherit his money, a la Mitt Romney, and therefore is not open to charges of elitism, 4) he's religious but doesn't claim divine inspiration a la Michelle Bachman, and 5) he's personable and knows how to reach people, unlike Newt Gingrich. Oh yes, he's also an African-American. (Sorry, I was wrong, that's #6.) Liberals don't like any of the first five qualities so they they decide race must be the most important issue. Could that be called "racism."

    October 14, 2011 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  25. Len

    Hey, you all do not get it. Cain is not running for President, he is a Black man networking for his corporate level job. He is ingenious! Just think about it, he is touting his credentials as an executive while also pressing that even though he is Black, he doesn't he isn't brainwashed and ghetto. Hmm, as an unemployed man of color myself, I know how hard it is to get a job. He sounds perfect for a corporate puppet job.

    October 14, 2011 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
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