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. Truthwillsetyoufree

    Race is not an issue so much now, but integrity and intelligence is...

    October 14, 2011 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. James PDX

    If he can neither see that is entire philosophy on taxes will so obviously make matters worse, nor hire anyone with enough spine and sense to tell him, then there is no way I would vote for him even if he wasn't a member of either corrupt/inept party.

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

    Really? What century are we in?

    October 14, 2011 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  4. Patrick

    Ok............let's thrown some 'fuel on the fire'. I have lived in the South for 34 years and I know many people. Democrats and Republicans alike, who do not like Obama because he is 'black'. If the Republican Party nominated Cain, he is no sure bet to win or even carry a majority of the Southern states as many people will sit the election out hoping for a better Republican candidate in 2016. This will not be spoken about publicly and I suspect many voters will lie to pollsters about their true intentions if Cain is the nominee. The Republican 'Big Tent' may be one outside of the South but in truth it is a monogamous one in this part of America.

    October 14, 2011 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  5. mb2010a

    Cain will one day realize that he is nothing more than the Republican's "token black" in this race. They have no intention of seriously running him in the 2012 election nor will he be seriously considered for the nomination. Sad really...

    October 14, 2011 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  6. Lean6

    This article and Cain's status in the polls is absolute proof that our political system is rigged at the very least. I think President Obama's election was genuine suppression of the race issue in America, and i was tearfully proud. That suppression became the target of the opposition from that point on. CNN, try reading your own comment sections sometime. There are hate groups out there waiting for the opportune time to strike on this divided country. It's jailhouse rules in America...with "us" or against us along what amounts to racial lines when you look around the room. That's where your Tea Party drew its percieved following in the public. People starting to see things in common with people they didn't otherwise have anything in common.

    October 14, 2011 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  7. Marcia

    Race will never be an issue when its one of their own.

    October 14, 2011 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  8. Ann

    @Gotta Be Kiddin, but Colin Powell never ran for president nor does he want to ever run. So, yes, Herman Caine, who is leading the republican polls is the first African-American person who has a shot at being the Republican nominee.

    October 14, 2011 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  9. NYC1972

    I'm conservative and i think Cain is a million times more qualified than the current prez and the candidates, just because he worked and succeeded in life in real time jobs and this has nothing to do with race, only reason why race is an issue is because @90% of the black pop voted for Obama and had no clue what he is – and he's a big fraud. So basically i lost complete confidence in the black voter.

    October 14, 2011 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  10. Whywhy

    People who claim that they are not racist... the truth is that they really are and they're trying so hard finding ways to not put it in the open. Anyhow, if it's between Cain and Obama, I'm voting for Obama. Atleast he doesn't talk smack about the minorities.

    October 14, 2011 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  11. coachmaurice

    There will not be a split vote between African-Americans if Cain win the nomination. African-Americans believe in President Obama and understand that he was handed this mess when he took office. Cain is well what can I say, another rich republucian, who privately laugh at black jokes. Very few African-Americans believe in him. Community organizer or Multi-millionaire who do you think African-American can relate to?

    Great job by the tea party to stick one out front and say "see we're not racist". may as well say that they have a "colored tv", "black boots or pickup", " one black friend doesn't make you un-racist:-(

    October 14, 2011 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  12. Ross

    Cain has zero chance of being the Republican nomination. Once the scrutiny starts, his legitimacy as a serious candidate will melt away. The fact that Cain is being considered at all speaks volumes about the quality of declared Republican candidates.

    October 14, 2011 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  13. Will

    If Herman Cain wins the Republican nomination, the South will secede again. Hopefully, this time we just let them go....

    October 14, 2011 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  14. Sean

    NEWS FLASH: With the exception of some far right wing-nuts, nobody decided to not vote for Obama because of his race. People failed to vote for him because of his lack of experience, extremely liberal voting record in the senate, his questionable personal associations, horrible ideas for moving this country forward, and many other shortcomings. All of which, it turns out, were quite valid reasons to not vote for him. He has been a disaster as POTUS. For every one person that did not vote for Obama because of his race, there were probably 10 people that voted for him solely because of his race.

    Hermain Cain, on the other hand, has real world, common sense solutions that will get this economy moving again and will help put the USA on the road to recovery on many different fronts. The current administration has been systematically destroying this country from the inside with its policies. The 2012 elections cannot come soon enough.

    October 14, 2011 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  15. BigBoy

    Yeah, Tea Party folks and Republicans are racists. Thats exactly why Cain is going to win the nomination. The truth is, the folks who voted for Obama to put the 1st "black" man in office are the true racists. The facts speak for themselves, despite what CNN/MSNBC/ABC/CBS and the Socialist, hmmm, i mean Democrat Party, has done to emulate McCarthy. Cain takes the race card away from Pelosi and the Democrat Black Caucus. So, with a REAL

    October 14, 2011 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  16. Garand

    Obama was never about race with Conservatives. I know you hate to hear this, but it's all about politics, policy, and character. Obama happens to be a partially black man who espouses destructive politics that are anathema to conservative values. He could be albino white and it wouldn't improve Conservatives' opinions of him. Cain happens to be a black man whose politics and policies seem to resonate better with Conservatives. It's that simple. The real racists are in the hard left Democratic establishment. They love to keep minorities down, and they do seem to hate independent black people.

    October 14, 2011 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  17. TAK

    Anyone watch South Park? They have one black kid that lives in town. His name is Token. That's what Cain is to the republicans. They will proudly tell a pollster that they support Cain to say "see, we're no racists". Then when they get in the privacy of the voting booth Cain has no chance.

    October 14, 2011 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  18. Mookie4295

    Another Clearance Thompson. Marry your white woman and swear up and down their is no racism in America, Cain and Thompson your the meaning of house ni–. I know your ancesters are turning in their graves, you should be ashame of your selves, selling your people short.

    October 14, 2011 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  19. wileysee

    Obviously, from the posts on this blog, the race issue is more of a problem for the left than the right. It seems that the left in potentially loosing another card to play have, once again, tried to either minimize or totally deny that everyone else is wrong and their far out theories are the only thing that is correct. What a shame!

    October 14, 2011 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  20. Jimbo

    Race was never an issue with Obama to the rebpulicans, it was purely made up by the left to scare the yournger generation into voting for him. It made me so mad when they started calling them racists just becuase they supported another candidate, I was furious becuase I knew that I wasn't racists. I guess that is what they were trying to accomplish. The sad part is a bunch of them actually believe it and still do.

    October 14, 2011 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  21. ThinkAgain

    "Career politicians are a huge part of our problem!"

    It depends on the person. If you're someone truly dedicated to service to your country (Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden come to mind), I don't see a problem and I greatly appreciate the experience they bring to the job.

    And since when does being the CEO of a company qualify you to be POTUS? Cain is used to making demands and if people don't do what he wants, he fires them. That's not representative democracy; that's a dictatorship.


    October 14, 2011 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. jg

    Never Going To Happen.
    Clock ticking at 14 minutes 55 seconds.......

    October 14, 2011 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  23. dan

    The Republicans (who freed the slaves) have never had a problem with race. That is simply a lie spread by the media. In fact, the fact that liberals voted for Barack Obama because of his skin color is racist in and of itself. And, let's be honest, if Herman Cain beat out Barack Obama, he would be the nations first black president. Barack Obama is half black. Personally, why should color matter. Let's correct the 2008 mistake and vote for someone who actually has experience and integrity- regardless of gender or color.

    October 14, 2011 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  24. V. P.

    America/Americans are a mess. In todays society race shouldn't even be a factor at all, but, it is and always will be. It's a shame that we blacks, African Americans whichever name we want to use still have to prove our worth. And poor President Obama is really going thru it, never mind that part of family is white, caucasion whichever term fits you. I don't agree with everything he saids and does, however, some of the comments I've read about he and his family that people have posted on the various boards, it's a pure disgrace.

    October 14, 2011 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  25. Alfredo Cedillo

    After reading and rolling it over in my mind it appears that Mr. Cain is believing that the race issue
    is moot from now on. However it is still alive and well in anytown U.S.A. and in the political arena
    as well. At election time everything will come out in the wash sort to speak. But havi ng said that
    it could be that in 2012 America will be voting for 2 Black guys. Imagine that.

    October 14, 2011 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
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