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. Amanpreet Kang

    Well, let me tell the GOP, race is a dominating factor in this coming election. If GOP nominates Mr. Cain, they will definitely loose the elections for the President. African – Americans versus African – American is not a solution. The GOP has no idea about the personal thoughts of a common middle class american. If any GOP leader is reading this, mark my words, change your candidate, or say bye – bye.

    October 14, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  2. Thinking7

    Race is the only thing that got Obama elected. I sure wish our country had been focused on leadership ability than skin color. There are a lot of black men that could lead this country. Obama is not one of them. I don't know much about Herman Cain, but I suspect the GOP added him just to compete against Obama. It is sad that race is an issue. It should be about ability.

    October 14, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  3. Diana Montero

    How can it not be when so many of the GOP, the birthers, the tea party want to see the President fail . . . because he is black!!!

    October 14, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  4. enough of lies

    Race may not be a big thing for Mr. Cain but it surly is a big thing for obama and his crowd of misinformed followers and everytime something happens, who plays the race card, obama, the dems and the obamanites, to bad that most of those who support obama are so uneducated and wothless that they must depend consistantly on government aide such as those on wall street, go ahead take it, destroy your source of support, but be warned if you come to confiscate what I have worked for, be not surprised on the resistance you get, Race is not a matter, but what I worked for is mine and I Shall Protect It.

    October 14, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  5. Scot

    Really ! Do you think those "good ole boys' that run the republican party are going to let guy into theri club. When they call OUR President a monkey and worse. Romney will be the pick and maybe , just maybe he will get the VP nod but even thats doubtful. The hate is still there especially in the south !

    October 14, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  6. Maxspartacus

    In the U.S. political arena race is allways an issue. Iwill be quite surprise that Cain survives the GOP primaries. I will no be surprise that the eventual GOP candidate will offer him the vicepresidency.

    October 14, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  7. lauradet

    Only racist person in the room is Herman Cain. He hates Muslims and he hates blacks. However, he got a free ride. He did not participate in the civil rights movement, so while other blacks were being lynched, hosed down, arrested, spat upon, beaten and degraded, Cain cowered in the corner. When the civil rights bill was passed then he had the freedom to progress without limitations on the backs of those that had courage to fight. Cain, you are by far a weak pathetic man, and you fit right in with the Republicans. I can assure you that you do not have my vote.

    October 14, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  8. AlaskaPalin

    Is it not insulting to blacks and the american people that each time a black person achieved at the highest political level, be it republican or democrat, that all that the libs/left/progress/dems start discussing is racism rather than the person's character or even policies? Are they subliminally saying to blacks that without us having your back you will not be able to achieve? Are blacks willing to continue under this condescension?

    October 14, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  9. yoshi

    You got to be kidding me – there is no way this country will elect pizza boy – i like this guy but he's never held elected office before – you need to know how to work the system to get things done – Romney has this experience – if elected, Cain would be ostracized and manipulated just like Obama and need someone who knows how to get those deadbeats in Congress to fix this country and not vote in their own interests....

    October 14, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  10. jb1963

    Cain is the biggest Uncle Tom.

    I wouldn't doubt he thinks he is white.

    October 14, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  11. Golden God

    Herman Cain has won my support. He is in a position to tell it like it is without being labeled a racist. He's got my vote for sure.

    October 14, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  12. miamigrrrl

    Yeah it isn't race this time around, it's mental illness.

    October 14, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  13. Dan

    When Mr. Cain becomes our president in 2012 he will be the first black, non-socialist president this country has had unlike the president that sits in the White House now who is half black, half white, socialist/Marxist, Saul Alinsky supporter.

    Herman Cain 2012

    October 14, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  14. NotALemming

    See, Cain is a REAL black man. Not half-and-half like the current joker in the White House. CAIN 212!!!!

    October 14, 2011 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  15. tewrobert

    Its not an issue with the whites as much as it is the blacks, I would have voted for Powell even if he had rubbed up against Bush..........
    Cain is gonna stir the pot.......This is how they get votes and then promise anything.........He has NO chance with me

    October 14, 2011 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  16. tom

    Cains Ideas matter, good conservative principals, not skin color. That is why Martin Luther King Jr was so successful. Its the same with Condaleeza Rice, Justice Thomas, General Powell...These Patriots lived the American Dream, based off of virtues and freedom. This is the basic ideas of the Tea Party. Small government, with personal responsibility and the freedom to make your life whatever you want it to be. None of the above people depended upon the government to do for them, they all made positive changes and influenced others by their own hard work and determination.

    October 14, 2011 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  17. Arcwraith

    We’re not racist… look we have a Black Candidate too. Talk about jumping on the band wagon.
    This is a shameful display of step and fetchery on the GOP and TPs part. They don’t have any real candidates so they push this guy on us?
    This guy is a pure Uncle Tom and the Conservative party should be ashamed of themselves for this blatant attempt to clear their names of racism. Every African American in the country should be insulted.

    October 14, 2011 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  18. NVa Native

    To survive everything needs to evolve – especially society.
    That is why the GOP is heading the way of the Dodo ~ extinction.
    And if we let them they’ll take the rest of us with them.

    October 14, 2011 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  19. MalibuChick

    This article proves that the left is obsessed with race. Who cares! He is a strong candidate. You don't do the things Herman Cain has done without being smart, efficient and strategic in thinking. The left is freaking out because they like to claim racism because they have no real reasons left to defend Obama. When in doubt cry out that people are racist.
    Personally, I find the left's obsession with race to be racist in and of itself. All I hear is that people are different and differences must be accepted, but at the same time you hear that all people are the same. They are either the same or different, you can't have it both ways.

    October 14, 2011 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  20. Connie

    It's not about who the 'top man' is, or his color or religion (unless he is running for Pope) – It's about who has the experience and knowledge to appoint the right people in the right positions to do what's best for the country, at home and on an international level. Huntsman is a better choice.

    October 14, 2011 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  21. Spendlove

    Most republicans will never admit this, but the reason why they hate Obama isn't because he's Democrat. I feel very sorry for Herman Cain, he just doesn't see it coming..

    October 14, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  22. Nathan Krisher

    People irritate me with this whole race thing, I am half white and half african american.. Obama is biracial, which would make him still the first black president "technically". OBAMA 2012

    October 14, 2011 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  23. ricky vee


    "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?

    So true and spot on. Liberals are OBSESSED with race while conservatives dont care about skin color, they care about conservative values and character.

    October 14, 2011 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  24. a Minnesotan

    Um, no. Colin Powell was the first African-American to have a real shot at the Republican nomination. And he is a much more palatable candidate to a wider section of the political spectrum than Cain is. But don't get me wrong, I prefer Cain to Bachman.

    Of course, I do prefer having my hand smashed than having it cut off.

    October 14, 2011 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  25. Lydia

    This whole article just points out how much race is still an issue. Since when does Limbaugh (surely everyone remembers his little racists quips) gets to say who is authentically black and who isn't. What I am hearing from my black friends, conservative and liberal alike, is that he puts black folk down. He does not honor the folks who stood up so he could become sucessful. The tea party likes him because he soothes their anxiety over race. That is not enough to make a good president.

    October 14, 2011 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
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