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. Patrick

    Reading through the comments (e.g. referring to Cain and Obama as "two African American candidates"), I find us as Americans implicitly racist even when we don't mean to be. Obama is half African American and half white, but in America if one has one drop of black blood in him/her, s/he is automaticallly wholly African American to all whites. What does that say about us? I got news for you: Obama is not our black President; he's our black and white President. I'm white and Obama in 2012.

    October 14, 2011 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  2. Lando

    I cant imagine having a pizza guy leading the most powerful country in the world....were doomed...

    October 14, 2011 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  3. TheTraveler

    Electing Cain would only result in another 4 years of deadlock in our government. Oh wait, so will re-electing Obama ...

    Cain has NOTHING to offer as President ... seriously. No, really, I mean it.

    October 14, 2011 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  4. Roscoe Chait

    What is it with these offensive Republican candidates like Cain? They don't act like they belong to the human race. They seem to lack sympathy, compassion and the ability to relate to other people, especially those suffering during this so-called recession. Why can't the Republicans attract real people who share insight and understanding instead of platitudes and vicious ego rage?

    October 14, 2011 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  5. ajgorm

    I love it , "Go Cain" ! Think positive ! I will compliment him for his character, his style and what he says not by his color. The first real GOP with color RIGHT on. Maybe we can move forward now.

    October 14, 2011 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  6. logic in LA

    The author is kidding himself if he thinks Republicans will look past Cain's color. Obama did not get nominated by Republicans nor did he get elected by Republicans.

    October 14, 2011 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  7. Lisa P

    Obama talks about Constitutional principles, just not the Constitutional principles that conservatives want to hear.

    I would guess that the racists love it when Cain talks about race, because his song is always that it's someone else's fault. Poverty? Nothing to do with centuries of discrimination and legalized oppression. Injustice? Just a figment of imagination pushed by the delusional on the easily misled. Crime? Hey, everyone can have their chance to join the real criminal class if they're willing to work hard at fitting in and saying what the power brokers (and power-broker wannabees) want to hear - just look at Herman Cain, corporate cog and radio spokesperson for keeping the 1% on top! Who in the 1% (plus the 40% who think they actually have a shot at 1-percenterdom, plus the plain old stupid) could possibly argue with that?

    October 14, 2011 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  8. Don

    The GOP will NEVER vote for a non-white so let us stop pretending that Cain has a shot of getting nominated in that party, this is just a ploy by the GOP establishment to reverse well-known incidents of racism in their party after Obama got elected. They are still the same ignorant Republican Tea Party who are for the white super rich citizens only.

    October 14, 2011 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  9. what's up

    Obama will make race an issue. Obama can't compete with a real man of accomplishments. Obama can't compete on his record of failures. Chicago Obama is a racist.

    October 14, 2011 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  10. Joe Schmo

    CNN can't seem to get its story straight. Yesterday they had an article about how Mitt Romney is basically going to run away with the nomination. Now today they have a story about how Cain has a "real shot" at the nomination. I guess CNN doesn't stand for Consistent News Network...

    October 14, 2011 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  11. kb

    Hermain Cain is a liar and a joke. He's a liar because he was a student at Moorehouse College during the early sixties. So he was of age to participate. And even if he was in high school, most of the civil rights participants were in high school. Its absurd for him to say that racism is not alive, which is the stance of most GOP members. Just because YOU are not a racist, deep in your heart, you know someone, who knows someone who is racist.Now he says that a lot of black people are racist....well you can be prejudice as blacks, because in order to be a true racist you must have some power over a group of people and used that power to prevent others from being successful or use that power to supress intimadate or terrorize. The only dude that would probably fit that discription would be Mr. Obama.....but wait, every time he tries to do something, its shot down by the he cant even be an effective racist. Come on Do we really want a COWARD in the white house. This dude (Hermain) sat on the sidelines when he was needed. Now he's reaping the benefits of the people he stubbed... Would Dr. King or any of his college buddies endorse him? We know the answer to that.

    October 14, 2011 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  12. Professor Locs

    Cain uses his radio personality to attract attention and focus. I do not know if I can trust him because he already sounds like a politician spouting out what he thinks will bring him the presidency. While Obama is not perfect, he is trying and I believe sincere. If race is not such a big thing-then why is that the focus?? Isn't Obama trying to pass a job bill -that Congress is not passing simply because they do not want to work with a black man? American people are more open and tolerant to various races-but Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are they open and objective to what Obama, a black man, is proposing-I think not. 2012 is around the corner-and they want Obama out because Obama is for the people, and the wealthy do not want to lose their cushy tax cuts.

    October 14, 2011 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  13. TIGER2

    "For one, many conservatives decry the focus on a candidate's race as an obsession for liberals. " Because to bring race into the picture exposes their hypocrisy, causes them to steer away from their 2 faced agenda and confront their own demons. America needs to stop trying to fool itself into believing that race doesn't matter. This is a racist nation and I'm not just talking white on black. Herman Cain demonstrated it in his foolish comments about Blacks being brainwashed and other nonsense he has said, and Laura Ingraham confirmed it with her even more riduculous statement.

    October 14, 2011 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  14. Kendo

    Herman Cain's 999 plan is disaster before it can even start. Most americans after filing pay less than the 9% flat tax he proposes. The 9% tax sales would bury the country. Even if there were enough 'used' items available to purchsed it would severely hurt what production is left in this country. Just adding the 9% on top of the purchase would undermine GDP. As far as class warfare goes he forgets that the wealthy had already declared that war back in the 80's and has ever since been trying to get more and more in their favor. The last time we had such difference in wealth was just prior to the Depression. Of course no surprize that he would be a champion for the wealthy given he is part of the 1%. For him to suggest that the other 99% can be rich, is to deny basic math. I dont believer you can divide 1% by 99 and not have communism.

    October 14, 2011 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  15. redwine9991

    In 2008 Obama ate Mc Cain. In 2012 Obama will eat Pizza Cain.

    October 14, 2011 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  16. Colonel Klink

    Should we elect this man president? Nein-Nein-Nein!!!

    October 14, 2011 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  17. James

    If race were not an issue, we would not be reading article like this.... The last two articles I have read about Cain have mentioned race, specifically, in the headline. Race is still VERY much an issue.

    October 14, 2011 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  18. what's up

    Herman Cain educated himself and worked hard to achieve success in life. Herman Cain represents everything Black kids should become, but everything Obama's agenda detests. Self motivation, education and hard work.

    October 14, 2011 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  19. redwine9991

    Pizza Cain At $9.99

    October 14, 2011 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  20. guitarharry

    Whatever...Race IS an issue in this campaign. Republicans I know have have told me flat-out that they will never vote for Cain because he is black; they would rather write-in a third-party candidate even though that could hand the election over to Obama. They will not say this in public because it is politically incorrect, but I think most Republicans, at least in the South where I live, feel this way. It's unlikely Cain will win the nomination; Republicans are not progressives–they yearn for status quo and that especially goes for race.

    October 14, 2011 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  21. cigarman

    I can tell you right now that Herb Cain will not be the Republican nominee. If Herb thinks that he has a chance, he is as dissolusioned as the Republicans. The Republican party as a whole is definitely RACIST. All the Republican Party wants to do is get the Black Man out of the White House, they do not want to replace the Black man with another Black man. Republicans will cheat to get the person in the White House that the upper echelon wants. All Republicans want to do is DESTROY Medicare, Social Security, Medicade and Unemployment insurance. Cains 999 program raises taxes on the middle class and lower taxes on the super rich. Americans had better wake up, the Republicans WILL destroy America as we now know it. I will be changing from Republican to Democrat real soon. All Real Americans had better do the same.

    October 14, 2011 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  22. Anne

    Ha. We'll see how much race isn't an issue when Cain is the Republican nominee, and half their base flocks to white third party candidates.

    October 14, 2011 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  23. ALAN

    With all due respect, I find it laughable that conservatives are giving all this "love" to Cain. The Republican Party has been prone to bias for YEARS and the only way I would believe that they have really progressed past that very real legacy is to actually NOMINATE the man. Very easy to give lip service right now saying "hey look at us we are not racists." When it gets right down to it, no matter how much Cain talks, acts, and behaves like a "good conservative," at the end of the day, the people who actually run the Republican Party WILL NOT ALLOW CAIN TO ACTUALLY WIN THE NOMINATION. Taxes, evangelical religion, AND COLOR matter to the Republican diaspora. Just wait and see.

    October 14, 2011 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  24. JJ

    So he's a puppet for their current color-blindness? Interesting, cuz it was the GOP who made Obama's birth certificate and religion a big deal.

    October 14, 2011 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  25. jdun

    Herman Cain is correct, race should not be an issue. However, with the republican notion of small federal government and more state control ,it will create race issues and more inequality in many states. His tax plans also discrimionate against the poor and middle class while giving more $ to the top 1%. According to Cain. we all have the same opportunities, most just don't work hard enough! Same ideas that occcured during the Gret Depression! Is it Americans fault that their jobs were moved overseas?

    October 14, 2011 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
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