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. ian

    true. we now know that dumb comes in any color, just as smart does. lesson learned. NEXT....

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  2. Keith

    Rubbish. Race is even more of an issue this time because Cain insists on making it so. He is utterly shameless in playing the race card. Hell, he even said in so many words that blacks who are against him are racist. What an idiot. If he is elected we will have two different sets of Federal laws, one for whites and one for blacks, and it is NO stretch to imagine which will give people the greater leniency.

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. aceblazin

    I think Obama is a smarter black man. Sorry.

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  4. md

    Yes, now we've clearly shown that any race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed can do a terrible job of running the country. From Texas Hillbillies, to African-American Christian zealots, as long as your voice is loud enough, and your banker friends have deep enough pockets, you can have your chance to play king of the dung heap...

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  5. jon

    If nothing else it would be interesting if Cain somehow did earn the Republican nomination for 2012. As a lifelong democrat even I would admit that the race card only helped Obama win the election in 2008.

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  6. Gene Brady

    There will be no race issue with Cain because he is "their" lap dog... big difference

    October 14, 2011 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  7. Buckwheat19

    "Race is not as much of an issue as it was in 2008".....that is because the media is not making it an issue as they did in 2008. Honestly I never consider race when deciding who to vote for. I condiser things like common sense, background, work expereince, record, proven leadership qualities. Candidate Obama in 2008 had almost no substantial expereince of any kind, had questionable associations and a spotty voting record as an elected official. That is why he didn't get my vote in either the primariy or the general election. Who cares what one's race is if they are an effective leader?

    October 14, 2011 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  8. CMS

    He's as big a flip-flopping out-of-touch joke as just about everyone else in the GOP besides Paul and Johnson. He's just the media's flavor of the week because the establishment just isn't thrilled about Romney (nor should they be).

    Herman Cain supports the Federal Reserve. 'nuf said.

    October 14, 2011 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  9. Stephan

    If race is not an issue why does the liberal media constantly play the race card?

    October 14, 2011 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  10. lee

    Read Ron Paul, make an informed decision and vote for a leader who will get us out of these pointless and costly wars. He will make a real change on corporatism and the greed of the government; and do what is right and end the fed.

    October 14, 2011 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  11. SCAtheist

    I think the Teabaggers really like this guy. I doubt they're aware that they like him because he's black. He gives them a validation on one hand while the other hand is saying, "I wish these n*****s would get the hell out of my town."

    October 14, 2011 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  12. BeverlyNC

    And who came up with that laughable statement?? Republicans are more racist now than they have ever been. Does Cain REALLY think these ignorant extremist racists are going to let a BLACK man represent their all-white Party? Look at how they still treat President Obama with such constant racist slander. Republicans care about RACE as much as they care about ABORTION.

    October 14, 2011 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  13. Dave, Central Illinois

    "the reason Cain is acceptable to conservatives is that he is an Uncle Tom. And just as stupid as the rest of the conservatives."

    I was waiting for some typical Lib racist label. Any person of color who does not fit into the mold that Libs expect them to fit into is labeled "Uncle Tom", "House boy", or whatever dribble their little brains can produce. The sad part is that people of color actually think Libs are their allies....

    October 14, 2011 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  14. Waldo

    JR, I believe it was Rush who first referred to Cain as the "authentic black".

    October 14, 2011 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  15. Peter

    If it honestly wasn't an issue, it wouldn't need to have an article written about it.

    October 14, 2011 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  16. JakeFrost20

    There's not a chance Cain will get the GOP nomination. Plenty of hot air around here about the possibility.

    Another lily white guy will get the nomination. Guaranteed.

    /although it's a slight possibility Cain may get the VP nod

    October 14, 2011 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  17. danny

    How hilarious. Cain is only popular with republicans because he has made it abundantly clear that he won't be beholding to black folks (I call this the Mandingo Affect) . I think that is the most racist aspect of his candidacy. The reason republicans/racist hated President Obama, more that any democratic candidate in history of the electorate, is because they thought he was going to give their money away to black people. THEY were the ones obsessed with race. Look at one of their greats rhetoric over time ( Glen Beck on Obama: He hates white people). If that ain't a signal to the white masses.CAIN DOESN'T YA'LL HE'S A GOOD BLAH....BLAH....BLAH......what a joke.

    October 14, 2011 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  18. sheppard

    "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."
    and here I thought rush would give us the biggest laugh of the day, but you win that prize.... the Democrats consider President Obama as strong & independent, you dufus. .... PS If you want to be taken seriously as a deep thinker, you might want to brush up on your spelling...

    October 14, 2011 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  19. Lisa

    Why should race ever be an issue?

    October 14, 2011 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  20. Buckwheat19

    Brett, your said "–Herman Cain voted for tarp, one of the worst policies in American history". Please explain that.

    October 14, 2011 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  21. big Al in KC

    It amazes me how people post their opinions with a pointless blah blah blah and a negative approach. If you have a positive solution, let's hear it. If your comments are childish, go back to your sandbox!

    October 14, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  22. Carson

    I don't live in the United States so I may be uneducated about this but wasn't the whole point of the Civil Rights Movement to get past all this race business? I don't understand why race is always brought up as an issue and why it seems that people have preconceived notions about who should believe in what. While I do think that it should be celebrated that the face of politics is becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, I am baffled as to why the issue of race is always brought up? The country, and the world as a whole, should be focusing more on the values and beliefs of the person who could potentially run the most powerful nation in the world rather than the colour of their skin.

    October 14, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  23. smellarat

    I would love to see a Cain vs. Obama election. Bring it on!

    October 14, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  24. Rob

    Sadly I think race is a bigger issue, just not in the same way. Instead of supporting an inept pizza chain executive who touts conservative talking points just because he is black and you want to be able to pull some of the vote of people who think the Republican party is bigoted-how bout you bring forward an intelligent and well suited candidate that is tolerable to moderates? The 9-9-9 plan is IDIOTIC and sounds like a 6th grade essay contest entry.

    October 14, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  25. Selmers

    Herman Cain, 2012!!!!

    October 14, 2011 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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