July 2nd, 2008
04:00 PM ET
15 years ago

Analysis: The Obama Test


CNN's Joe Johns speaks with professor Ron Walters about black members of Congress who supported Sen. Clinton.

(CNN) - Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have some of the safest seats in Congress. Many come from heavily Democratic districts where the only contest that really matters is the primary: Forget November, if you can keep any Democratic rivals out of the primary, you’re on the path to victory.

The formula for holding these seats is relatively simple: stay in touch with your constituents, stick to the well established liberal policy agenda, gain seniority, and use that seniority to convince voters they need your power in Congress.

It’s worked. Until now.

Potential challengers who had no tool to dislodge heavyweight incumbents now have a powerful issue to drive a wedge between these legislators and their constituents. You can sum it up in a phrase: “Did You Believe?” - as in, did you believe in Barack Obama?

It’s already an issue in Michigan’s 13th district, where Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who stayed neutral in the primary because of her position as head of the Black Caucus, is being attacked as a Hillary Clinton supporter. Ohio’s Stephanie Tubbs Jones, California’s Maxine Waters and Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee were among several who backed Clinton outright, and are now having to deal with the repercussions.

University of Maryland historian Ron Walters told CNN’s Joe John’s this week that the uglier chapters in the presidential primary made matters worse.

“One of the biggest things is the unexpected dynamic of perceived racism coming out of the Hillary Clinton campaign alienated many blacks. So it’s not just the issue of the history making properties of Barack Obama,” he said.

It’s likely too late for any potential challengers to get much traction in this election cycle. But if Obama winds up in the White House, the 2010 democratic congressional primaries in heavily African-American districts could be far less predictable than the past.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. Susan, OH

    Ohio’s Stephanie Tubbs Jones, California’s Maxine Waters and Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee should loose their seats. Out with the "old" in with the "new".

    Obama 08!!!!!!

    July 2, 2008 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  2. Joe

    As long as these new candidates are willing to follow the Obama message of change, let them ride Obama's coat tails as far as it will take them. That's not taking advantage; it's taking initiative.

    July 2, 2008 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  3. Wil

    White Caucus. That is what you call congress for many years. Look at how many years it was a white only club. Even with a black Caucus, black voices are not heard or taken seriously until it is an election year. Then after that, black voices are not heard again.

    July 2, 2008 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  4. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    He's right and there is no way to change the facts, however it's unfortunate but it's politics.

    July 2, 2008 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  5. James, Redlands, CA

    It's juvenile and simple minded to suggest that there are not internal conflicts within different constituencies. And anyone who thinks that many(not all) Jewish voters would not challenge or try to defeat a Jewish representative who did not support Israel is eigther stupid or lying.

    Bob from NY-
    The "Congressional White Congress" as you labeled, it has been in effect since the creation of this great nation.

    Jimmy Velman-
    Black Liberation Theology is only taught/practiced maybe by 10-15% of the African American Church (so a minority within a minority). I hope you do not expect 85-90% of a population who does not practice a particular belief to explain what it means or be held responsible. Otherwise, why don't you explain the meaning of white supremacy and its relevance to the American people. That topic was not mentioned in this article so you clearly have issues with African Americans in general. God bless you too.

    The African American districts who feel that their representative has truely worked for thier concerns will get over it and not punish their representative. But it will motivate people to consider someone who is not just the one they are familiar with, so they keep sending them back to D.C.

    July 2, 2008 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  6. Bahb

    Bob Barr is the only real choice...

    Bob Barr 08!

    July 2, 2008 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  7. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    So if you backed the black guy you're in, and if you backed the white woman you're out? How racist can you get? Bob, from NY. I agree, it's time for a Congressional White Caucus. If blacks had voted issues instead of race, Hillary would be the nominee, and we'd have a choice between 2 qualified candidates instead of one.

    July 2, 2008 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  8. Independent Voter

    Man, talk about RACISM! Watch out, America, this is just the beginning.

    Swear an oath of allegiance to your race or kiss your elected position goodbye.

    Sounds like Barack Obama has made his mark already.

    What would happen if there were a white caucus and they threw anybody who voted for BO under the bus? What would we call that??

    Or, how about a historically white college – would anyone get away with funding that?

    Or a Congressional White Caucus – who would sit back for that?

    What;s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    July 2, 2008 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  9. William, from Cali!

    That's the problem: Many of those, "olde guard" DemocRATS, need to be replaced. Some of them, have "overstayed" their time and "effectiveness," to bring about change. And their " constituents", keep re-electing them to do nothing, but collect governmental checks and build their pension.

    July 2, 2008 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  10. Philip

    You're right "if you were smart..." We're beginning to see shifts from primary-season commitments and declarations to general election-season posturing and positions - all in the name of winning. All those "definitive" commitments Obama made during the primaries are slowly shifting to postures designed to win. Make everyone feel good by telling them what they want to hear - that's what it's all about for Obama. In the primaries, his audience was Democrats. Now, his audience is the general voting population. Oh what a difference....

    July 2, 2008 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  11. robert

    Just because they chose someone not because of the color of their skin, but by the policies and experience to lead this country, they have to be punished because they did not vote for the black person? so much for party Unity. they are nothing but ignorant

    July 2, 2008 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  12. Dwayne L, OH

    Well...Well...Well, choose and use your big ole fancy words to explain your political views. Well guess what it doesn't mean anything because it's all public opinion. Tell me one time you remember when the gov't cared about it and i'll pick it apart like a turkey carcus on Thanks Giving Day. So all you left and right wingers, democrats and republicans, neocons and neodems are all mislead. The funny thing is you get so upset and ready to do something stupid to someone over their personal opinion. Well the last I heard that was a right that we were born with not to mention this is still the U.S. at least for a little while anyway. Have fun cutting one another off at the knees. I'll keep reading and crackin' up while CNN can keep rakin' in the dough. This is good stuff...two birds with one stone. See CNN, I told you...you should let me in as a business partner.

    July 2, 2008 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  13. Tony, Miami

    If you were smart
    I don't find you smart or funny but I may say you are a sore looser. Try to get smart. I know, I know I am asking you a lot but who knows in your next life you'll be better.

    July 2, 2008 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8