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. newslover99

    I find it interesting that these conservatives say race isn't a large issue, though for some reason it's important to point out that Herman Cain is a "true" African American, and that Obama didn't really have the "black experience."

    October 14, 2011 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  2. aspires

    Mr. Cain knows all about pizza and burgers, and how to turn a fat profit while making his customers fat. This 999 nonsense will be the finish for the struggling middle class. The good news is, Obama will win in 2012.

    October 14, 2011 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  3. BillyBob117

    Great to see the state run media remains desperate and must continue to play the race card.

    October 14, 2011 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  4. clark

    Maybe conservatives don't have an issue with Cain because he is conservative.
    Maybe conservative have an issue with Obama because he is a liberal.
    Come on CNN your better than this....or are you?

    October 14, 2011 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  5. Anon

    Cain is insane, a failed corporate wh0re and another republican big spender.
    Take a look at the numers of how the deficit was during republican vs democratic presidents, it's actually shocking.

    October 14, 2011 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  6. Jennifer

    If Cain gets the nomination, I can see a lot of good old boys not going to the polls next year.

    ------------------------------------

    Ain't that the truth. It is certainly true that there are many Repubicans without an ounce of racism. But, for many, many Tea Partiers, Cain is just a shill. They love him because he spouts all the racist ideals they can't say without showing their true colors (i.e. "blacks are just lazy and belong 'po.") He will never be the President because too many republicans would stay home in a contest between Cain vs. Obama (never ever would they vote for a Black man. To deny racism is a joke. Do we not see the racist comments even on this blog? Come 'on. What a joke. Cain you are a puppet for the party! And to take down a fellow African American as "not Black enough" is just shameless (what does that have to do with whether you agree with his politics). He was certainly Black enough for the Birth movement. Black enough for people to question is Nationality, religion and loyalty to this Country (regardless of whether you like the job he has done). That's just plain RACISM.

    October 14, 2011 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  7. carguy

    Actually, President Obama is the first Bi-racial president. To call him African-American is not accurate.

    October 14, 2011 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  8. aspires

    We've become the laughing stock of the world with this republican sideshow underway. Everyone knows that Obama/Biden will be re-elected in 2012. Even Chris Christie knew that.

    October 14, 2011 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  9. Carla

    "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."

    This is what is wrong with so many conservatives, why does the "black experience in America" equate with being poor?

    October 14, 2011 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. Jam and Toast

    Cain will not get the nomination. I think its funny the hype behind all these possible Republican nominee hopefuls not one of them seems like a viable candidate yet we continue to pretend they are. I don't think race should be an issue for Cain, and since I don't think he'd make a good candidate even if his skin was translucent I don't have any heartbreak about saying he's not even being seriously considered because he's black. Whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth sounds like white noise to the average Republican affiliated voter and we all know it. Fortunately in his pathetic case theres nothing lost. Based on what I've heard from him I don't think he'd vote for himself...

    October 14, 2011 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  11. BLKMANinAmerica

    K................................but he (Cain) isn't "black"...............sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo??????????????? WTH???

    October 14, 2011 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  12. John

    It doesn't surprise me that the NAACP has lashed out again. The outfit is bankrupt for new ideas and concepts. They're still living the 1950's and 60's in Selma. I hope Mr. Cain has a good shot at the presidency. Two black men running against each other for the top job. Who ever would have thought it to be possible?

    October 14, 2011 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  13. An American veteran

    Yes the Tparty is Racisit, I repeat, the Tparty is a racist party, they are just using Herman cain and are trying to show that they are not. He is a Pupett to them just like Michael Steel Period!

    October 14, 2011 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  14. ricky

    Anyone who doesn't toe the Democratic/Socialist line is a RACIST! You must support bigger goverment, income redistribution, affirmative action, hiring preferences based on race, goverment contracts must be administered and alloted by race. What a bunch of hypocrites. Democrats hate the idea of strong, independent black people thinking for themselves. It scares the hell out of them. Only the politics of envy and class warfare keep the Dems in power.

    October 14, 2011 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  15. aspires

    Cain made his fortune selling extremely fattening junk food to a bunch of fat slobs who became unemployable due to excess weight. Look at how much push back there was when Chris Christie was being considered. A black candidate faces less discrimination then a fat man. Cain added to the overweight epidemic by selling burgers and pizza.

    October 14, 2011 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  16. allens

    cain is a mean spirited insensitive conservative. the middle class is being wiped out and the reanks of the poor are growing. all he has to say is, we personally could have done better? his 999 plan speaks for him. who cares about the poor and middle class, they shoulod have done better. if this is what the gop stands for, plan on insurrection in the future

    October 14, 2011 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  17. D

    Do you think Herman Cain would of been the first to try?

    Right...be neither.

    He is nothing but another corporate stooge who cut 60% of the Godfather's Pizza franchises and put all those people out of work so he increase profits.

    October 14, 2011 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  18. skarphace

    A large percentage of African-Americans are at or below the poverty line. Their unemployment rate is twice that of white Americans. However, just because blacks who participate in politics (unfortunately, only about 10% of them) are not well off does not mean they are stupid. They fully realize that Cain is pro business and anti worker.

    They fully realize that Cain's 999 plan is an attempt to further distribute wealth from lower income Americans to higher income Americans. The 999 plan, in Cain's form, is regressive. It raises taxes on those that can least afford to pay taxes and lowers taxes on those with the most disposable income. It is unfair and is class warfare, and this fact is not lost on those who are hurting in America today, many of which are black.

    This is why they will vote against Cain, not because of his race. Cain knows this, but thinks he can shame blacks into voting for him: if you vote for Obama you are brainwashed and a racist. This reverse pschology will not work.

    October 14, 2011 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  19. Corvus1

    Well I guess if Rethugs are considering a black man for their presidential candidate, that means racism is over! (never mind why the Tea Party got started or anything like that)

    October 14, 2011 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  20. roasted peanuts

    What America really needs is a President with a brain and will to do things right, whether he or she is white or black.

    October 14, 2011 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  21. focusonjobs1

    Enough of this bull…if you conservatives think he is the best candidate then vote for him. I could care less that he is black; his views represent everything that’s ugly about this country. The Republicans have become the party of me, me, and me. It’s funny they say if you are out of work…it’s your fault, if your salary is too low…it’s your fault, everything is that way except policies that benefit the wealthy. Things like defense….we need to pull together to pay and serve, tax breaks for the big oil….we all need to pull together to pay, list goes on and on. It’s time we pulled together to grow the middleclass.

    October 14, 2011 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  22. Cop

    The "press" would love to see Cain win the nomination, cus then it would be black against black and Obama would beat Cain cus he's too conservative. Just what CNN and the mainstream press want.

    October 14, 2011 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  23. murthy

    My vote is always for Republican.First preferance is Cain and the second is Romney.

    October 14, 2011 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  24. Jay

    Cain is another liar. The media is pushing him hard in order to keep Ron Paul down. Cain made bold face lies in the last debate. He's a total insider and now he wants to impose 9 9 9 , which is a tax cut for the rich, and tax increase on the middle class and small business owners. It's amazing how stupid people are to buy into him. It's kind of sad. The good thing is people didn't fall for Perry and ultimately I don't think they'll fall for Cain in the end. ...but don't worry the media will have someone else to inflate, someone who isn't Ron Paul

    October 14, 2011 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  25. vesuvio

    "Race Not the Issue it Was in 2004" under a photo of Cain
    Read "Minority Voters, Please Don't Vote for a Republican."
    That's not what the article is about, once you click the link. And yet the banner on the home page IS worded to create that first impression.

    October 14, 2011 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
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