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. Cambone

    For the most part, race was not the issue in the last election either – it only became an issue when the Left didn't get their way and screamed racism. the current race also does not have racism as an issue – the issue is class warfare , and guess who has brought up this issue – the left.

    October 14, 2011 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  2. erich2112x

    I'm not voting for anyone who's weak enough to allow himself to be manipulated by the racist GOP. He's their token black, and he has't the self esteem to even recognize it. imagine how easy it would be for say, Putin to work this guy. No way.

    October 14, 2011 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  3. lol

    Quite amusing how many liberal racists there are flooding this commentary. I'd have to nominate the Darwinism award to the ldiot who claimed it's in the DNA of anyone who's a republican to be racist. Pot meet kettle. I'd confidently say most of you don't even vote, let alone actually contribute anything to society. So congratulations on not only being useless, but clearly ignorant as well.

    October 14, 2011 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  4. Ed Gruberman

    Good old fashioned American conservative hypocrisy!

    October 14, 2011 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  5. babs

    What progress! Now a candidate who happens to be of a minority race igenerates strong poll numbers despite his crackpot ideas! We done overcome!

    October 14, 2011 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  6. ThinkAgain

    "Republicans were not going to vote for him [Obama] because he was too inexperienced and had a socialist agenda."

    No, Republicans weren't going to vote for Obama because Republicans want to wipe out the Middle Class and turn us into a third-world country. Why do I say this? Because Republican policies have resulted in an ever-widening income gap, with the top 1% owning 40% of our wealth; because Republican policies include eliminating the social safety net; because Republican policies include eliminating environmental protections; because the end result of Republican policies is what you find in China and India, the two largest foreign contributors to Republican candidates and the most-favored destination for Republican investment overseas.

    October 14, 2011 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  7. gerr

    Because says race is not an issue does not mean race is not an issue in his mind. His statement that if your not rich,blame yourself ignores the FACT that in Capitalism 100% employment is impossible. Mr Cain does not form opinions from obvious facts yet he appears ready to act on those opinions.

    October 14, 2011 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  8. Joe

    This boy is a clown. I hope he gets the nomination.

    October 14, 2011 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  9. Tony in Maine

    If you really believe race isn't an issue, I have a bridge for sale cheap. It crosses the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It could be a real moneymaker.

    try walking into Bubba's Groceries or BillyBob's Beer and Bait with either an Obama or a Cain button. LOL

    FWIW, I live in rural Maine, that same attitude is all prevelant here. A black man in the White House? Only if he's pushing a vacuum cleaner.

    October 14, 2011 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  10. Tree

    Because Cain is doing and saying the GOP dirty work. He is a fool and not very smart. He is fooling some and not many. Yes people like this guy because he is a clown that wear many hats but one thing he is not and never be President of the US. He saying things the the GOP want to say but can't. So they both are using each other.

    October 14, 2011 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  11. kwreader

    I'm not sure what's worse, his pizza or his politics, but both are abysmal.

    America doesn't need someone who blames the old, the disabled, and children for being poor. We don't need someone who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to give more tax breaks to the rich so they can offshore their jobs while American citizens are starving in the streets.

    October 14, 2011 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  12. Mitch

    Mr. Alan Keyes did some damage in the primary polls way back in 2000. Way to blow race out of proportion though.

    October 14, 2011 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  13. cypher20

    Ok, the headline for this article is atrocious. Precious few Conservatives had a problem with Obama's race. I certainly didn't vote against the man because of his skin color. It had everything to do with his policies and that he plays to the crowd rather than stick to principles. Herman Cain is appealing for a lot of reasons, optimistic, good speaker, great ideas, but race isn't even on the list. If leftists would quit focusing so much on race, like conservatives have learned to do, maybe race relations in this country could move forward.

    October 14, 2011 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  14. Charles

    i turned away from the dem party because it is a party that focuses on race. hopefully, repubs party will bring out the racism that lies in the dems.

    October 14, 2011 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  15. frank

    Just goes to show that mediocrity is accepted regardless of race.

    October 14, 2011 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  16. AZ DEM

    Cain is DOA at the GOP convention hes running for the 2 spot but most likely he won't even get that

    October 14, 2011 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  17. watergirl

    Tea party like Cain also because he puts down other blacks. For me it doesn't matter what color, sex, religion you are, if you have bad ideas, I'm not going to support or vote for you. Plus Cain stole his ideal of 999 from a computer game. In SimsCity 4 the games default tax system is the exact same plan as Cain. SimsCity 4 came out in 2003. So Cain is basing our whole tax system on a computer game. When you ask him questions on how it works, he can't answer them. Maybe he needs to play SimsCity 4 more often.
    The comment that if Cain and Obama are running against each other that they would split the black vote and Ron Paul would win because the white votes would go to him, is silly. Did you read the above article, Cain is dissing other blacks. Why would they vote for Cain when he thinks Blacks are racist. For all you Ron Paul supporters, give it up. I have found that people who like what Ron Paul say, don't like him as much when they find out what Libertarians really believe. The majority of people really don't want a Libertarian type of government.

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

    Wow, Republicans are actually trying to spin the fact they would have the first "authentically black president" if Cain won. It's like they are screaming, "I'm not racist, but..."

    October 14, 2011 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  19. Red Pison

    Herman Cain is the Republican Party's token african american nominee. He's just an Uncle Tom.

    October 14, 2011 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  20. MrRobertK

    The reason the left fears Herman Cain is when he wins the election if they oppose him in any way the left will be on the receiving end of the racist label.

    October 14, 2011 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  21. AL

    Race is not an issue? BULLCRAP! Race will always be an issue so long as it is to someones advantage to make it an issue, and Cain has already proven that he is more than willing to do so!

    October 14, 2011 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  22. sid

    I would pay money to see an Obama vs. Cain debate! I hope the repub morons nominate this guy so our President can wipe the floor with him and send him packing back to his radio job!

    October 14, 2011 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  23. joe stecco

    The truth is the only real racism during 2008 was on the democratic side with all of their race baiting. Yes the fact is face baiting is racist. Most republicans did not like Obama because he comes from a highly Marxist point of view. He believes the country should control everything. Just look at what this administration is doing with all the raids on businesses and literally taking over private companies like the auto industry. Fact is it was the unions backed by the democrats that killed the industry to begin with. He's even got the justice department raiding Martin guitars. He will use any excuse to try to take over or fine companies up the wazzoo.. he believes in the Marxist way. Problem is it does not work.

    October 14, 2011 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  24. Proud fellow Georgian

    Race is only an issue for those who want to use it as an advantage. Herman is above it, and so are most folks with at least half a brain. I tire of being assumed I'm a racist because of my skin color being white, and constantly having to "prove" other wise... Those who complain about race are the true racists, and there are many more of those (of all skin tones) on the Democratic side than on the Republican. I vote for integrity, competence, experience. patriotism and good ideas. Herman Cain wins on all counts !!!!

    October 14, 2011 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  25. Magic

    There is no way in hell that Herman Cain will get the nomination. The Republicans are stupid but not that stupid. Even they know that Cain would lose out big time in the racist south. Racism is very much alive and strong, esp in the south.

    October 14, 2011 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
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