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. Carlos

    If Hillary runs; I will bet she will beat everyone. Hillary 2012. You got my vote.!!!

    October 14, 2011 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  2. skarphace

    I fully agree that many conservatives did not vote against Obama because of his race but rather because of his policies. However, you are going to find that many liberals will bote against Cain for the same exact reasons.

    October 14, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  3. mochica

    I keep reading that Republican voters relate to Cain because his message is simple and they can easily understand it.
    Yes, we certainly need a leader that can tackle complex international problems that he knows nothing about with elementary and inappropriate solutions. These same people would be so surprised to see the results.

    October 14, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  4. mochica

    We have to recognize that the problem is really not the politicians but us, we are an uneducated country that does nothing but work and watch TV.

    October 14, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  5. ghost

    Well, I sure hope no one really votes for Cain. This is one angry black man, you can see it in his eyes. Cain is a racist against white people. We need a nice white man in office for the presidency. Operation "Let blackie be president" is over. Obama had his chance and he blew it. The main reason Obama made president, is because everybody wanted to let the black guy be president. Even black people see that now, and are not going to vote for Cain. They know that they lack the intelligence to hold such a position.

    October 14, 2011 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  6. kd

    Race is a GIANT problem in elections and this is a very misleading article.

    Most of Obama's problems with the conservative voters is the fact that he's black and that he's perceived by the conservative base as having an agenda to assist minorities, which is a heinous lie. The right-wing conservatives politicians play up to that fear because it serves their nasty purposes. Cain is more a token to the right politicians than Obama is an easy propaganda tool for them. They KNOW their base won't vote for him. But they can present themselves (the politicians) as color-blind, which is another giant lie.

    Republicans have destroyed this country and will continue to so for the foreseeable future. Their dirty and underhanded policies and methods are absolutely disgusting. Cain would never eventually be elected. Besides being completely unable to handle the job and besides his bizarre ideas with a basis in nothing and besides his complete and utter lack of experience in ANYTHING, the Republican base will never, ever vote for him. Why? Because he's BLACK!

    October 14, 2011 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  7. unknownian

    Cain is a Republican Puppet distraction to allow those with a the IQ of an Ant to beleive that the Right is not Racist.
    He will be pushed aside at the exact moment he is directed to by his Puppeteers; to make room for what ever idiot the right finally decides is the least embarrassing moron to nominate. Anyone who beleives anything else, (like the author of this fantasy article by dreamer Shannon Travis) is either living in an alternate reality, or still has a stash of LSD left over from the 60s.

    October 14, 2011 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  8. klink

    how soon we forget!
    Jim Crow Laws – passed by Democrats
    Abraham Lincoln- Republican

    October 14, 2011 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  9. mochica

    As Cain is running with the Republican party I doubt that he has a big problem with racism. Will the tea party hold up images of him with a bone going through his nose as they did with Obama?

    October 14, 2011 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  10. Kelly

    Obama is NOT the first black president, he is the first bi racial president. America has not had a black president as of yet. Why do news organizations keep saying he is the first black president? He wasn't even raised by black people.

    October 14, 2011 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  11. kman821

    According to Cain's own words ... we will not have elected our first black president until the Black Walnut is elected because he maintains that he’s a “real” black man unlike Obama. What kind tea-bagging simpleton must one be in order to think this charlatan is ready to be POTUS??? Also remember ... If you're unemployed and are not rich, it's your own fault according to the Balck Walnut ... which of course is the perfect description for him since he is obviously a NUT.

    October 14, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  12. MJP

    rdarkchild stop feeling low about yourself. I am not white and I am a conservative non affiliated who likes Republican ideology better than Dems. Get real Dem ideology is to keep you down because they don't believe you are capable of doing for yourself. Rep. say here, opportunity for all work hard I you will have. That is what Herman Cain has done. He did everything in his life with obstacles like you trying to bring him down and other obstacles from other types of people.

    I guess that saying is true, "Like crabs in a barrel pulling eacho ther down and no one gets to the top". Your beloved OBAMA is as white as he is black.

    October 14, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  13. tj

    "Cain's race not as big an issue with conservatives as Obama's was three years ago". Maybe because he's wealthy, conservative, and not President Obama. It also may be because Cain believes he is white or is at least willing to pretend.

    October 14, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  14. Waldo

    JR, I am an African American and I find it quite insulting for Cain to imply or suggest that I and other African Americans don't think for ourselves or are somehow brainwashed because we don't buy what he and the GOP are selling. I am neither brainwashed nor brain dead and would not vote for Cain if my life depended on it, not because he's black or a republican but because I do not agree with his views.

    October 14, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  15. skarphace

    Murthy: if your vote always goes to a Republican, then it just means that you do not have an open mind. Stop voting along Party lines and start voting for the best person for the job and America will be a much better place.

    October 14, 2011 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  16. Unknownian

    Cain is a Republican Puppet distraction to allow those with a the IQ of an Ant to beleive that the Right is not Racist.
    He will be pushed aside at the exact moment he is directed to by his Puppeteers; to make room for what ever idiot the right finally decides is the least embarrassing moron to nominate. Anyone who beleives anything else, (like the author of this fantasy article by dreamer Shannon Travis) is either living in an alternate reality, or still has a stash of LSD left over from the 60s

    October 14, 2011 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  17. Dave Harris

    I'm sorry, but I can't believe that Southern white Republican Christians are going to accept a black man as president. This is their main objection to Obama (oh yeah, and he's an illegal alien, too). These are the same people who turned the firehoses on black schoolchildren in the '60s. Some have changed, but most have not.

    October 14, 2011 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  18. Its_about_Class_Stations_In_Standing

    No its about wealth and seperatioin of stations between the have and have nots. The non wealthy do not diserve breaks on education, pension, standards of living, health care and wages per the new Repubican Weatlh Party. So folks even though Cain is the better of all applying for the republican party he probably can't break from the Republican Creed of non resepct of non wealthy and responsible for keeping it so under the ruise that the economy is the reason for the cuts. Hmmmm who donates the money to get that accross and what lobbyist expect from donations these days. I am always so happy to hear that no one ever brings up George JR the idiot for eight years and they have to dig back to Ronald Reagon. That is the only smart move other than distancing themselves from the Alaskan idiot too. Cain I hope you carry the republican party.

    October 14, 2011 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  19. danny

    As for people who don't think black people can think for themselves......Please quit vomiting that pathetic mime. I think republicans have proven time and time again white the majority of blacks vote democratic. At one time we used to vote republican. Most blacks won't vote for Cain because that disagree with his point of view. I know I do. Indubitably!!!!!!

    October 14, 2011 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  20. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    I like Cain....his 9-9-9 plan makes sense....this way the 47% of people are not paying taxes at all under the current system but are the ones who uses services the most....they need to pay thier fiar share....poor or not.

    October 14, 2011 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  21. Obama Wannabe Like Palin was to be Hillary

    Hmm We have a person of Obama race and had a lady prior to follow Hillary. Copy Cats..... :-0

    October 14, 2011 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  22. john

    i am a democrat and i respect Herman. People should stop referencing skin color. and let the person be judged by his character.

    i support Obama, but i think he has no backbone in him. He could have done things so differently but instead he chooses to blame and keeo blaming. Which is no good for the country as whole.

    time to move on from the republican mess and fix your own mess and create your own legacy

    October 14, 2011 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. Debby

    AMEN DC Johnny! Finally, someone has called Dominican Mama for Obama out for her own hypocrisy! EVERY single post she has made has been 100% BLIND BIAS for Obama. There is nothing wrong with supporting a political figure but when your every comment is laced with the same rhetoric you lose all credibility. Where was her outrage when President Bush was compared to a monkey verbally and in pictures? There wasn't any! Gee, what suprise! Bush was compared to every vile thing you can imagine, by people of all races. Somehow that was ok. Lest you think I supported Bush, think again. I couldn't wait to see him leave office. Unfortunately, Obama has been an equal disappointment.

    Dominican mama for Obama, BOTH YOU and Black Panther2020 need to take a long look at YOURSELVES in the mirror then tell me who is racist? Try making a rational, intelligent post for a change.

    October 14, 2011 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  24. AnotherPaul

    If you are not a white, you may be nominated as the candidates, be elected as the precedent, but you still cannot accomplish anything. They fail you because of that without saying it. Remember, politicians are liars. You need to be a really great man to have the changes but not fail. Will Obama show us in the next 4 years? You need to fight!

    October 14, 2011 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  25. Naztaja

    Republicans are not racist. They are Xenophobic. Their lack of ability to understand the face of new 21st century immigration was the core reasoning they assaulted & maligned their own President at every turn with cries of ARAB MUSLIM ATHEIST AFRICAN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT NANNY STAER DEATH PANEL: Fear of a perceived foreigner...not a black man.

    October 14, 2011 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
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