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. DJ

    Cain is the 2011 version of Alan Keyes. If you are dumb & naive enough to believe that:
    Herman Cain isn't merely window dressing for the republican to dangle a token black,
    He has a 1% chance at the Republican nomination for POTUS,
    Will continue in the campaign and even be considered for the VP slot or
    Will not FADE into the shadows within the next sixty days, then you are a simple minded moron who shouldn't taken seriously nor should you be voting for county dog catcher let alone the presidency.

    October 14, 2011 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  2. Rudy NYC

    I think that I've found the perfect nickname for Mr. Cain. "Demon." Does the man have any eyebrows? He looks like he's in a perpetual state of anger. I shall call him "Demon," and his black walnut eatin' followers shall be known as "Cain-Nuts"

    October 14, 2011 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  3. JayDeeT

    Race is very much an issue in 2012, but in the same way it was in 2008. The Republican Party continues to be conducting a hate-mongering anti-black backlash against Obama, and have stated over and over again that Obama must "be brought down." Was'nt all the "birther" crap about race? Obama was "made" to show his "papers" as if he was a black vagabond walking streets of 19th century Memphis!! Did you catch the obscene racist depictions of Obama on the signs carried by "Tea Party" bigots during their so-called "demonstrations"? We could go on all day with example. The only difference with cain is that the right-wing hate-mongers don't really think he will get the nomination. They just want to briefly promote him in these bogus polls to embarrass Romney. Deal with it!!

    October 14, 2011 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  4. vixis

    Race nor sex should not be an issue at all, what should be an issue is that the person running for President have integrity, honesty, protect this country and the legal citizens within our borders. Unfortunately past few Presidents didn't have these qualities, they were out for their own agenda. None of them looked out for citizens, we're taxed to death while millions are given to foreign countries. Makes me sick.

    October 14, 2011 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. Reasonably

    So why is no one asking for his birth certificate? It is because of his American-sounding name?

    October 14, 2011 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  6. RickL

    "Cain's race not as big an issue for conservatives as Obama's was"??????? Once again CNN assumes that race is the problem that conservatives have with Obama. I am a conservative and I couldn't care less what color Obama or Cain is. It is not Obama's race, it is his politics!!!! I feel the same way about Nancy Pelosi, Harry Ried, Charles Schumer, Diane Feinstein, etc. I support Cain for the same reason I don't support Obama: HIS POLITICS! Perhaps CNN has the real issue with race.

    October 14, 2011 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  7. Jimbo

    Hahahaha, the libs/dems are so funny. First when Obama was running for president the Republicans were racists becuase they didn't vote for now the Republicans have a black man running for the ticket the libs are saying the black man is racists! This is hilarious!

    October 14, 2011 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. BoyHowdie

    "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".... so.. it IS about race, after all....

    October 14, 2011 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  9. Ladyday

    Uncle Rukas is a fool. Whites have spent 4 years doing all they could to keep President Obama from succeeding they certainly aren't going to help this fool. Blacks aren't going to either and he desperately needs their votes.

    October 14, 2011 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  10. 1CentFree

    Nominating Cain would be an instant GOP failure for the presidency. You know it and they know it. Cain is enjoying all of this publicity right now because he really has not been scrutinized. Once he becomes the nominee, watch the sparks fly. I'm pretty sure the Dems already have a load of bombs to drop on Cain, and they're just waiting for the perfect time.

    October 14, 2011 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  11. chris

    Being a student of history, I find humor in this. Just because you endorse a candidate that is not white, doesn't exactly make a party not tied to racism. Keep in mind that the Tea Party did not truly disavow themselves of the folks that brought raciast signs to their rallies.

    Now, to key in why I mentioned the fact I am a student of history. Slaves fought for both the North, and the South during the Civil War. The South, the same country that wanted to keep said slaves in bondage.

    October 14, 2011 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  12. Madrep

    This guy actually makes sense. But, if race isn't an issue, why is it mentioned.....ALWAYS!

    October 14, 2011 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  13. dudley0418

    A black candidate from the GOP is a real way to unite. A presidency of this sort would blur the racial boundaries that exist and help bring a politically divided country closer together.

    October 14, 2011 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Could it be Mr. Cain that not too deep in your heart you know that a lot of the sae folks that "claim" to support and accept you would flip their wigs if they saw you and your wife together acting like the loving couple that I'm sure you are?
    Could that be the reason Mr. Cain why you are THE ONLY one standing up on that stage whose spouse has been kept under wraps so to speak.

    You're not as stupid as you speak after all, are you Mr. Cain?

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

    I have voted both sides. I don't vote the party, I vote the person. I voted for Obama because he didn't have Palin on his ticket. If McCain had made a better choice, I might have gone that way.

    October 14, 2011 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  16. meko

    Hermain Cain has repeatedly down talked black people. He doesnt care about anyone concerns but his own, just like the other GOP. He's ajust a political gimmick who fail through the pizza business

    October 14, 2011 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  17. jersseballew

    No one knows who will win The Republican Nomination. All of The Straw Votes n Polls mean less then nothing at this point. The World could look a lot different a year from now.

    October 14, 2011 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  18. markus

    Fine, Conservatives...put your money where your mouths are and nominate him...

    of course, that's never going to happen.
    But wow, it must feel good to have someone in the fray to deflect attention from the

    October 14, 2011 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  19. Terrance Wood

    It takes a special individual to declare that one black man is more authentically black than another. Next thing you know, we're going to go back to arguing about how black you have to be to have a master. My children are mixed, and I find it quite insulting to hear people that have wide audiences discuss skin color, as if it is a requirement to start out poor, to be black.

    October 14, 2011 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    I find it interesting that these conservatives say race is not an issue, though for some reason it's important to point out that Herman Cain is "truly" African American, as opposed to Barack Obama, who apparently didn't share the real "black experience."

    October 14, 2011 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Obama can't compete with a real man of accomplishments."

    Simply put: Obama IS the President of the United States and will always have that accomplishment on his record of achievements, including, but not limited to, each and every future publication of the History of the United States Presidents from 2008 forward. Cain, for all HIS accomplishments (real or otherwise) will never have the honor of becoming President of the United States.

    October 14, 2011 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  22. Suzyq

    Herman Cain's 999 plan is preposterous! What people don't realize is that his 9 percent national sales tax is on top of the st. sales tax. How would you like to buy a car and pay 17 percent tax!!! No one would buy, the rich would pay less and the economy would fall so deep in a hole it would be impossible for anyone to fix.

    October 14, 2011 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  23. sheppard

    If would be funny if it weren't so pathetic... all this blather from the right/wrong wing about 'race' is no longer an issue – when THEY are the very ones who are constantly bringing it up. Their attempt to look stylish only makes them look foolish..... "authentic Black president"... rushbo, you never fail to amaze (or provide a good laugh, you bozo)....

    October 14, 2011 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You gotta hurry up and keep your momentum going Mr. Cain.
    Your "jig" will soon be up.
    And how your dear wife would lend herself to be kept in hiding so as not torun the risk of upsetting your "base" is quite beyond me.
    Then again, people who are only in it for the money,their own selfish motivations, and future book sales would lend themselves to a lot of demeaning things. As you have so clearly proven.

    Obama 2012.

    October 14, 2011 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  25. SayWhatnow?

    Uh..give us all a break CNN. Herman Cain uses race everytime he opens his mouth. He pretends he's a :"better black man" than Obama, he calls black people "brainwashed" and he's given a pass for 60 stupid ill informed comments a day because he appeases white Neo Cons.

    October 14, 2011 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
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