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

    How can this be?? Every liberal pundit has been telling us for the past three years that all republicans and tea party folks are racists. And now we find out that the number one candidate for conservatives is a BLACK man!!!

    The way I see it, either conservatives have all magically changed thier evil, racist ways, or maybe, just maybe, the plethora of liberal pundits from the Main Stream Media have been using the race card to falsely accuse these folks.

    In a better world, these creeps would all be held accountable for their actions. And oh, yes, many of them are employed by CNN as well.

    October 14, 2011 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  2. PaulC

    Anyone who says race is not an issue is fooling themselves. Race, religion, weight and gender are very definitely an issue and are a big consideration when voting. I don't really thing the tea party will nominate him and they really should look beyond the media darlings. Any republican would be a disaster but Cain is not someone you want to be president.

    October 14, 2011 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  3. Expat American

    Because Conservative Christians remain just as afraid of Islam as much as they are of Obama’s skin; good ‘Christians’ that they are….

    I’d vote for a qualified Muslim American for President before I’d ever vote for a Christian Conservative from the brood of those who bastardize the faith and package it into an American Six Pack of beer and call it religion.

    October 14, 2011 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  4. Dan

    This is idiotic. Being a Jew isn't a race, it's a religion.

    Second, being African American isn't a color either. If both of my white grandparents were from South Africa then I would be African American, and white.

    October 14, 2011 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  5. Jimmy

    Wow, CNN reference to Republicans seeing the light that it is OK to be black and Rush Limbaugh (a notable bigot) "Herman Cain could be our first authentically black president" and ,"Laura Ingraham said last week on her show. "Does he have a white mother, white father, grandparents? No, right?" is disturbing.

    Cain is news, the GOP's changing their political stance for Cain is deemed as a conserted effort to resurrect itself. But the only way the GOP can save itself is to just stop blocking all of the Democrats bills in the Senate... That is the only way to stop their demise.

    October 14, 2011 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. TrueHeart

    Actually, since Obama is out-fundraising them by wide margins, I think the Republicans are just trying to save money by cutting the Mc from the McCain/Palin bumper stickers.

    October 14, 2011 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. Joe

    Quite the quandry for the voters in 2012 indeed. Now they might have to choose a candidate based on his qualifications and not his color. Not that I know or think either is qualified.

    October 14, 2011 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. james Miller

    If all the Republicans love President Reagan so much and want to go back to the "good old days", let`s begin by "rolling back" the Bush tax cuts to the same level they were during the Reagan Era !!!!! They ( Repubs) blamed the high interest rates in `83-`84 on Carter while reaping huge $$$ on money loaned to S&L institutions-- Then the bottom dropped out and the S&L fiasco surfaced and lots of middle class folks got blindsided having to wait months for FDIC insurance to replace their lost/stolen $$$$--- Anyone out there but me remember?????????

    October 14, 2011 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. BillyBob117

    Back in 2008 and continuing it was the state run media and the dims/libs that always brought up the color of little barry's skin. little barry is not an African-American-do not ever forget that he had a white mommy--he is bi-racial--

    October 14, 2011 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Jim Hartnett

    He has a snowballs chance in hell of getting the nomination. If he did win, hater republicans would have no reason to go to the polls and Obama would win anyway. I predict they will run a fat white guy.

    October 14, 2011 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  11. R to the b

    You must be a Republican to be this optimistic.

    REality would state that you are a moron, this guy will be getting 8% in almost every relevant southern-ish state.

    October 14, 2011 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  12. focusonjobs1

    Do you mean the Tea party will not be carrying signs of Cain with a bone threw his nose? If you believe those who were so blatantly racist suddenly got religion, I’ve some swamp land for sale. And Laura Ingraham, in this country and everywhere in the world people has always categorized anyone with a tan and African ancestors as black. Also, people in the black community have openly accepted all with a drop of African blood because they have nowhere else to go. As for Cain getting the nomination, l believe it when I see it! It’s truly insulting to say minorities will vote for a Republican just because he is Black. Herman Cain has no more of a chance of getting the minority vote as any of the other Republican candidates. Obama had the turnout because he promised to support minorities (in addition to being black), Cain could care less about helping anyone other than the wealthy.

    October 14, 2011 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  13. carly

    If you believe that race is not an issue with conservatives esp. southern conservatives I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

    October 14, 2011 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  14. Tonyb

    what a coincidence!! Look america, the repubs have a black candidate too. How laughable that this lilly white party has found so many people of color to be talking heads on FOX the last 4 years. And the Fox new idiots will buy it.

    Good thing we don't have a chinese female as president, they's have a hell of a time finding one in their ranks.

    October 14, 2011 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  15. landon

    It is still an issue–you wrote about it.

    October 14, 2011 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  16. chet99

    If he wants to charge 9% sales tax on food, he won't be getting my vote.

    October 14, 2011 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  17. Joey ( hispanic voter)

    Cain is nothin' but an uncle tom for the GOP. I don't like this guy one iota. I voted Obama after Hillary lost the primary. I'm an independent voter, affliations reduces viable options. GOP has put us in this economic mess thinking war would bring prosperity (expres Bush said that to expres of Argentina Kirchner look it up). Well the way the US plays capitalist's tactics against other countries, in the financial regard, has caused mistrust in the global market or maybe worse aprehension. Just like what the GOP has done to the American people in the last 8 years,hence Occupy Wall Street.

    October 14, 2011 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  18. Peggy - TX

    Republicans embraced racism as a fund raising tool. They brought it out of the closet and legitimized it in the minds of their racist followers. The Tea Party with their nonsensical positions created a pretext to what otherwise would be naked racism. Cain is not a creditable candidate – he does not even take himself seriously. 9-9-9 plan came from 2003Sim City game – and it is a really dumb plan designed to be so far right that he makes the primary winner look moderate. Voters that move from Perry to Cain are simply signaling that they are voting for "none of the above." Republicans fall into two groups, those that are racist and those that are indifferent to others being racist. We call them racist, not because they disagree with us, not because Obama is black, we call them racist because they talk like racist, and they act like racist.

    October 14, 2011 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  19. Qev

    Fact is, Republicans know they have NO real chance in 2012, so why not prop up a black candidate, just to say "eh, we nominated a black guy in 2012...who’re you callin' racist?".

    As for Cain and his affinity for "Conservative values"; not even 40 years ago "Conservatives" (and their values) would have him tarred, feathered, lynched, burned, shot and killed for even acting like he was even thinking about acting like he was thinking about running for POTUS...I wonder if THOSE are the values that he has so much admiration for?

    And, don't preach to me about the past and how long ago it was...there are tens-of-millions of Americans still alive today who were alive when this was the normally expected "Conservative" reaction–INCLUDING CAIN,, it wasn't THAT long ago.

    October 14, 2011 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  20. Woman In California

    This article flat out LIES and I couldn't even read most of it before I responded. The TP is racist and most of us with any intelligence know they are only USING Cain to try and distort what we all witnessed and heard with our own eyes and ears since our president took office and I for one am NOT buying it.

    WHEN they nominate Cain as their candidate (and they WON'T) – we'll revisit this subject. Just wait until you hear the reasons they give for choosing someone else. It should be interesting.

    October 14, 2011 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  21. Lisa P

    LIP October 14, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am

    ,,,I don't think [Cain] has a single agenda like Obama, which seems to be total destruction of Capitalism...Lets all hope for the best, get our heads out of you know where and stop with the racist constructive for a change.

    Ha ha ha! You're joking, right? But in case you're not, why not start by dropping the "single agenda" "destruction of Capitalism" nonsense? If anything (and unfortunately, in my opinion) Obama has been working his tail off to keep Capitalism from destroying itself. Want both parties to work together? Tell it to the GOP, if you can ever get a word in through their constant steam of whining about imaginary slights and boasting about delusional conquests. They are the enablers for the 1%'s destruction of the American economy and political system. Obama is a much better person than I am - I would say go ahead, because they are only ruining themselves in the long run. We working folk have nothing more to lose at this point.

    October 14, 2011 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  22. Joe

    He just rattles off what he thinks his so-called constituency wants to hear. I bet he can't even get a cab in midtown after dark. He needs to go away.

    October 14, 2011 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  23. Ketheeswaran Pararajasingham

    Unlike the current US president or other presidential candidates, Herman Cain stands up for individual who did the right thing but not noticed by the society.

    October 14, 2011 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  24. Guest27

    Race was only an issue for the media and racist groups in the first place. Most Americans don't care about skin color. It's not like there is a "pure" race left in America. It is the media and the federal government that keeps the race issue alive. Only when a group wants to use the race card to advance themselves does the issue come up.

    October 14, 2011 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  25. sally

    There isn't any way the GOP is going to nominate Cain. Romney is their man...the media is backing him...that is obvious in the tenor of the news reports.

    October 14, 2011 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
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