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. mannycl

    The only problem with Mr. Cain is his 9-9-9 plan that doesn't add up. I don't think people will like the idea of a 9% sales tax at a federal level not a 9% flat income tax rate instead of the progressive tax system. He's very likeable, intelligent and could be elected assuming that he does not keep pounding on his economic plan that will neer be passed by congress..
    Race is a problem for liberals that make a living out of it but not for conservatives.

    October 14, 2011 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  2. D

    Well Well Well, isn't it funny how the tea baggers keep trying to avert their claims of not being racist. In my opinion they have even gone to the extent of putting in a token black to avert those claims, just to keep themselves from being called the most racist group next to the KKK. Keep pouring your lies tea baggers. Maybe you can make some believe your BS but now all.

    October 14, 2011 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  3. Kenny K

    Although Mr. Cain is rising in poll, how many people have rushed to donate to his campaign?

    Other presidential candidates have not digged into his and/or family's background and past records. This will be done for him if he is nominated, just the way it was done for Mr. Obama. The republican does not want to look like they are beating him up. I am sure every black church's pastor have said some things that will not be acceptable in white people's view. The kind of song Mr. Cain sing show that he goes to black church.

    October 14, 2011 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  4. johnbeer

    Unlike your headline states, Obama's race was never an issue with Republicans. Remember, Republicans voted in higher percentages for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 than did the Democrats. Lincoln freed the slaves. The Republican Party was founded on an anti-slavery platform. What Republicans object to regarding Obama is that he is trying to destroy America with his socialistic policies. Republicans love Cain because he loves and embraces what America is all about. This racist Republican is voting for him in the Georgia primary. Go Herman!

    October 14, 2011 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  5. StlMelz

    If Cain does not win the Republican nomination, we will have four more years of Obama. It has nothing to do with race, either. It hs to do with character and how the candidate is perceived by voters. The others currently in the race are TOO polished as politicians. Frankly, I don't trust any of them anymore than I trust most of the politicians currently in office. I know many people who have similar thoughts and feelings.

    October 14, 2011 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  6. Hector

    Liking Cain is one thing, runnning this country is another. The Gop will not nominate Cain, he knows it and so does everyone else. The Gop filed ia very weak. The only one who has a shot to beat President Obama is Mitt, if the teaparty will get in line. But whoever the nominee is, no matter what all the repugs will fall in line and vote for that person come 11/12...their only goal is to beat the president. Sorry, but it is not going to matter how many obsticle the repugs put in place. They are showing their deperation!!! As a independent I don't trust the Gop to run this country!!!

    October 14, 2011 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  7. New Age Independent

    "So why isn't Cain's ethnicity as much a part of his story as it was with Obama?"

    This is the problem with liberal thinking. Race was never the issue. However, there are many Democrats who simply refuse to believe it, and want to convince others that it is all about race for political purposes. These are the real racists. Those, mostly Liberals from my experience, that want to categorize us and subsequently divide us.

    October 14, 2011 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  8. Walter

    Liberals scream and squawk that the only reason Republicans don't like Obama is because they're racist. However, when libs don't like Cain it's not because he's black, it's because he's a Republican. Talk about a pathetic double standard.

    October 14, 2011 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  9. Getlostobama

    Why is it that Republicans are always considered racist? The Democrats want it that way. When polled before the last election I was amazed at peoples comments. I saw time and time again African Americans stating they were voting for Obama because he was black. I never saw one person say they were voting for McCain because he was white. Cain is an educated black Republican and Democrats hate that. How long ago was slavery abolished? African Americans have many of the same opportunities that whites do if not more. What about affirmative action and EEOC hiring guidelines. People are growing tired of whites being accused of racism all the time. I would love for Cain to be our next president. I would have voted for Powell or Rice as well. Its not about the color of skin when it comes to being the President of the United States. Educated people want a quality leader...uneducated people want to complain and blame everyone.

    October 14, 2011 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  10. Ferret out the B.S.

    Barack Obama is sooooooo much more intellegent than Cain as well a the rest of the bunch.

    October 14, 2011 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  11. Amazing

    Cain continues to speak half truths. He was in college from 1963 – 1967 so he would have had ample opportunity to participate in the civil rights movement. The real reason is that his participation would have potentially jeporadized his father's employment as chaffauer for Robert Woodruff, the legendary CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. Also, note his first job was with Coke (his connections had nothing to do with getting the job; I don't think so). as a black man, I don't begrudge that decision given the way things were at that time. It is understandable. But, I think it disrespectful and demeaning the way he continues to act as though he is authentically black and Obama is not.

    What Cain fails to mention is that he had some advantages that other blacks of his era did not. Namely, the Coca-Cola connection. If Cain's color is truly irrelevant to republicans that they would not be stating he would be the 1st black president. Cain is simply a more articulate version of Perry!

    October 14, 2011 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  12. John

    First of all his 9-9-9 plan will not work. The Only people It will help Is the Rich and Big Business. It will end up not bringing In more Revenue than the Government Is now ,so It won't help the Deficit at all.

    October 14, 2011 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  13. Anonymous

    Cain's grandparents from Uganda and not citizens. Guess he has been given citizenship based on his birth in America. Kinda like what the Hispanic community is fighting for for their children. So therefor his grandparents were illegal aliens. Yes. Wouldn't the Repukes and Teapartiers look silly if they didn't support the front runner. So when he falls on his face who will they have left to support? 9 9 9 6 6 6. Evil lurks in this man's heart. 9% tax for those making less than current allowable total deduction levels. Poverty to be exact. And 9% sales tax on top of my the state sales tax of 6.25% This tax will also be attached to gasoline prices. hmmmm Need I say more??? Evil lurks in the heart of this man.

    October 14, 2011 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  14. thunderbolt

    The talk of racism has always been a liberal plot pushed by the media, that backed liberals against the tea party.If you go back three years and recount all the media stories about the tea party, you will see the different tactics that the dems and media used to try and tarnish the movement. The latest example would be the backing and explanations of the current movement, that the media and dems seem to want to get behind and give a push. Herman Cain seems to be a good candidate to run for President for the republicans. Actually, I feel he is the best man for the job.He has proven his business and leadership qualities throughout his life with the accomplishments to back it up.He also seems to have the character of a winner, survivor, and most of all , a person who lives by his convictions and morals. When is the last time you seen that in a politician?But most of all he can put the hard questions to Obama without being labeled a racist for doing so. He can dig into solyndra,Acorn, Freedy, Fannie,fast and furious, Health care reform, (that gave dems a pass for paying for it) and so many other issues that when addressed in the past, was wrongly labeled racist simply for the fact they didn't want to answer the questions. Many people think that if Cain gets the bid that Obama automatically wins a second term. I disagree, he will finallly have to answer for the decisions he has made, and more important, why he made them. Cain has the same advantage that Obama enjoyed while running his first time. He has no record to look at and judge by.Obama doesn't have that advantage this time around. His record is there for all to see, and question. When these two get together in a debate, there won't be any voting (present) and getting away with it. It will cost him the election if he does.

    October 14, 2011 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  15. CHI-Town GUY

    I'd rather have Mr Cain become the Republican Nominee, than that George Bush clone Perry! Bottom line most americans have truly grown tired of the entire political system. Wouldn't be surprised if an Independent wins the presidency somewhere down the line

    October 14, 2011 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  16. Inrealityhere

    @Stephen Daugherty – Yes, and same reason Republicans didn't have a problem w/ Obama's race. His POLICIES are the problem. But you still had people like "Dominican mama" screaming "racist" at everyone who opposed him.

    October 14, 2011 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  17. LibsLieAlways

    Actually Herman Cain would be the first African American President not the first half African American raised by a white woman...........or perhaps First Kenyan Half African raised by a white marxist woman elected President.....

    October 14, 2011 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  18. LibsLieAlways

    Herman Cane the next president after the half black one from chicago gets boosted for incompetance.

    October 14, 2011 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  19. sanity

    Obama is not black or African American. He is biracial and has no family connections to slavery in the US. Liberals simply want to justify his election based on his skin color; nothing could be more racist.

    October 14, 2011 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  20. Sam.DCS

    Obama did what ALL parents asked their children to do. Work harder than everyone else, study harder because of your skin color, and never give up in if you want to succeed. He did all this and GOD rewarded his hard work and the Republicans dislike him? I thought they are Christians, can't they see the biblical miracles at work? "Ask, it shall be given; seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened unto you" God simple bless Obama's effort. Let's step back and take a look at this guy's characters:
    1. Hard working
    2. Likeable (all his classmate only have positive memories)
    3. Very humble (As president of his Law Review at Harvard Law School-no gloating here)
    4. Cares – took community job as lawyer for small organization/communities (He did not accept all $350K+ jobs offer after completing his education).
    5. Very focused (Won the 2008 election against all odds)
    6. Very determined (Eliminated high profile terrorists in his 3 years compared to Bush's 8 years in the office)
    7. Inspiring (Giving more opportunities for minorities to climb as high as they WANT, eg: Herman Cain/Bachmann)
    8. Christian principles (Never get angry with your brother, opponents without cause, turn the other check if slapped, and GOD will fight your battles)
    That said, if you want to keep opposing him because you have no specific reason of doing so apart from what the GOP want you to, go ahead. We will ALL face our maker one day and explain why you hated this guy so much that you destroyed an entire nation because of your hatred for him.

    October 14, 2011 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  21. LibsLieAlways

    It would be great if Herman gets elected then we can have an honest non polarizing non overspending nonmarxist for president, we might turn our economy around yet.......send the lying lawyer back to flatlanderville.......

    October 14, 2011 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  22. MsKira

    my post are not being posted... hmmmm

    October 14, 2011 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  23. Mike

    "So why isn't Cain's ethnicity as much a part of his story as it was with Obama?"

    ....Because he doesn't use it as a crutch? Because he doesn't play the Professional Victim card?

    October 14, 2011 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  24. rkt210

    It's not about race, it's about politics. In 2008, it didn't matter if Obama were black, white, green, purple, or blue – Republicans were not going to vote for him because he was too inexperienced and had a socialist agenda. Colin Powell would have been a viable candidate, but chose not too run. Can you blame him? The people who could do a great job don't run because they can make more money and have a private life elsewhere, without all the BS.

    October 14, 2011 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  25. west

    Do any of you listen to this guy talk, he a house,n!!ger and he thinks he smart he is willie lynch in the flesh.

    October 14, 2011 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
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