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. ohsnap

    This article is almost as offensive as Cain is.

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  2. Bryan

    To be accurate, if elected, Herman Cain would actually be our nation's first African-American president. I love how everyone seems to forget that President Obama is half white, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, and the son of a Kenyan national. African-American? Yes. But not in the truest of senses.

    October 14, 2011 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. Inrealityhere

    @Dominican mama- the reality I live in is same place as yours, now take notice of BlackPanther2020's comment; and this is "tinged" with what?

    October 14, 2011 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  4. foreverwar

    Unckle Ruckus here is kidding himself if he thinks he will have any votes from the GOP's healthy sized rasist segment.

    October 14, 2011 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  5. FactCheck

    DC Johnny- President Obama has shown minorities something special... that even a minority child can grow up to one day ruin this country just as much as a white person can.

    Really Johnny, you should have spent more time in school. I doubt any President (black, white, yellow, or green) could ever ruin this country as much as the dolt that occupied it from 2000-2008.

    October 14, 2011 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  6. humtake

    Race hasn't been an "issue" for a long time. It is no longer something standard in society, it is now an individual issue. If someone has a problem with race, it is their own ignorance and stupidity, not anyone else's. In fact, the only reason race became a factor in 2008 was because the Dems would just pull the racist card when someone didn't agree with Obama. It will be fun to see it the other way around now.

    October 14, 2011 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  7. Inrealityhere

    @Dominican mama- the reality is there are racists on both sides but I believe most conservatives don't support Obama because of his policies not color.

    October 14, 2011 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  8. FactCheck

    14:59... 14:58... 14:57... 14:56... come on folks, count down with me. Those 15 minutes for Cain will be gone in no time.

    October 14, 2011 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    By the way, where is Cain's wife?
    We've seen everyone else's significant other/spouse.
    Where is your wife Mr. Cain?

    October 14, 2011 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  10. lakeshore22

    Folks, just imagine: "Cain v Obama". LMAO!!! What would the racist core of the republican party do? Can you say "Landslide win for Obama"?!?!?!"

    October 14, 2011 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  11. drc

    I'd vote for Mr Cain. He is NOT a politician which gives him a HUGE plus, he has worked in the business world and held real jobs. He speaks the truth and doesn't sugar coat everything for the masses who simply want to hear false promises. I'm also in the group that likes his 9-9-9 plan because I'd be in the percentage of the population who would PAY LESS for a change instead of the 48% who pay nothign and would actually have to contribute to society.

    Furthermore, it would put to bed the ridiculous race card FOREVER that Obama has been waving around since the day he took office along with his loyal followers. His followers HATE that Cain is black and conservative and that he would actually make EVERYONE pay taxes instead of only 52% of the country and he would expect you to actually WORK for a living instead of waiting for the next Government handout.

    October 14, 2011 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    First of all Obama is only half black...his mother was white...

    October 14, 2011 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  13. Kevin

    Maybe the problem never was with race but with political position/opinion. The same people who were anti-Clinton are anti-Obama (surprise surprise). Just because the left couldn't fathom that anyone could disagree with the brilliance that was Obama doesn't mean that those who did disagree did so because of race.

    October 14, 2011 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  14. Phillip

    This Herman Cain is just a blatant attemp at divide and conquer the Black vote as it has always been. He is just another pawn that will be cast aside after the Tea Party and the Republicans are through with him. There is not a Black man or woman in America that will vote for him or his policies. Black voters have been voting for Presidents for as long as we were given the right to vote here in America. It is because of Black america that many a White man has become President. Do not think because the color of the candidates skin tone changes Black Americans will jump the fence to the other side. We know the story of the wolf in sheeps clothing. As for Mr Cain, what profits a man if he gains the world but loses his soul.

    October 14, 2011 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  15. MarylandBill

    It amazes me how many people see all politics through the lens of race. I still remember having a debate with a guy in 2008 who claimed that every state in the South who didn't voite for Obama, didn't vote for him because he was black; the was despite the fact that these states had not supported Kerry or Gore 4 and 8 years previously.

    I am also tired of people labeling the Tea Party and the Republican party as being racist, as if the simple act of being a member makes one a racist (note I am not a member of either). Are there racists in the Republican party? Yep. Are there racists in the Tea Party? Sure. But if you think there aren't racists in the Democratic party, you are just wrong.
    Yes, it is true that say from the mid-70s to the mid-90s the former Southern Democrats (who often were racists) turned Republicans had a disproportionate amount of influence on the party, but even then I think one would be hard pressed to call Ronald Reagan a racist, and certainly neither George Bush was/is a racist.

    And Democrats should remember that prior to JFK and LBJ, it was the Democrats who were the party of institutional racism in this country; the Republicans were the ones who freed the slaves.

    October 14, 2011 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  16. Smartman88

    Herman will go the way of black conservatives before him. JC Watts, Ward Connerly, and so many more. Herman is convienent for the conservatives just as the aforementioned. It's early in the race and the republicans are happy to let him build a plantation of black votes. Then when it becomes go time, his 999 plan will be shredded like cheese and conservatives will point out his lack of ability to understand foreign policy. I wonder what Alan Keyes is doing these days.

    October 14, 2011 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  17. ObamaJoe

    God bless President Obama,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    October 14, 2011 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  18. Alert Citizen

    No one in America can claim that race is not an issue when we ask for religion of a person running for the president. We ask for religious beliefs of a candidate under the tag "we want to know every thing", well in that case, don't use that information to discriminate agaist a candidate. There is so much hatred you see when people refer to obama with capitalized middle name. What will you feel if everyone whose last names sound german are treated like Hitler's family friends? Hatred does not solve a single problem. It just raises your blood pressure.

    October 14, 2011 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  19. Eric

    @ humtake

    I don't know what world you are living in when you says "race hasn't been an "issue for a long time". Apparently you live in your own little bubble where everyone is now treated fairly and equal. However I do agree that it's individual issue, but it happens to the the individual issue of Many Americans both White and Black.

    October 14, 2011 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  20. ryan cameron

    the GOP tried really hard to get mildly retarted people to run for president since they did so well with Dubya, trying again with Palin, Huckabee, and Bachman, there was a scare when they almost elected a relatively smart man in Romney, Christie didnt even try, but now they've overcome that hiccup with Cain. Great job, GOP!

    October 14, 2011 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  21. john

    Good post. I really like Cain and admire him and his self made success...the American dream. The fact that he is currently #2 in the republican polls should show far left folks that many conservatives truely don't care about race...its principles that matter!

    October 14, 2011 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  22. Sup

    22% of Republicans are willing to vote for him, but I somehow doubt the 88% will. And yes, it has a lot to do with his race. I live in the South and the comments I read and hear about Obama prove to me that racism is alive and well down here. NO WAY are these rednecks voting for a black man. Sorry CNN. Nice try.

    October 14, 2011 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  23. gaucho420

    I'm not entrusting our government to a former radio talk show and pizza CEO. That is not the answer, that will make it much worse.

    October 14, 2011 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  24. Boo

    Yeah right, race is such a yesterday issue in the USA. LOL. Nice try.

    October 14, 2011 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  25. Richard

    Anyone who thinks being Gay is a choice does not have the intellectual capacity to lead the U.S.A. Really? Some of you actually think Herman Cain is viable? Well, I guess when you put him beside a Mormon... though really in the end anyone clinging to a Dark Ages faith is not fit to lead a country. At least Mormonism is ... newer... *cough*

    October 14, 2011 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
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