While the Republican party is struggling to “re-brand” themselves with voters of color and women after getting pummeled in 2012, they are symbolically, at least, turning out to be the best route to the U.S. Senate for black candidates.
When Republican senator Tim Scott was tapped to replace Tea Party godfather Jim DeMint, he became the first black Republican senator since 1979 and only the 7th African-American senator in the history of the country.
When Mo Cowan was appointed to a brief stint as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, it became relevant to ask whether the electoral path to the Senate for black candidates was closed off due to structural and financial concerns.
Right now with T.W. Shannon entering the race in Oklahoma to replace the ill and retiring Senator Tom Coburn, a win could potentially put the Republican party in the awkward spot of having two black senators caucusing with a party that can hardly attract any black voters.
And if history is any indication, the color of the candidates, does not determine their level of support among the electorate. Despite the popular, but wrong, narrative that black Americans voted overwhelmingly in favor of President Obama because he is black, the overwhelming support that the president received in both elections was policy based. Much of the conventional wisdom and analysis in conservative media misses the underlying reasons why historically black voters support democrats at all levels and of all colors.
Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon formally declared his candidacy for the Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who is stepping down two years early at the end of this congressional term. Shannon entering the race sets the stage for a Republican primary between Shannon and Rep. James Lankford.
Shannon touted his faith in his campaign announcement and it’s expected that the general election is guaranteed for whoever wins the GOP primary.
“You know, it’s only right that I’m sitting in this place at such a time,” Shannon said. “Every major event in my life has been decided after spending time in this church, praying, seeking God’s assignment for my life.” Shannon went on to say that, he’s running for office “because I still believe we are one nation under God and with his favor we can save our country.”
That messaging is sure to work well with the electorate in Oklahoma.
If Shannon is successful, that will put the number of black Senators at three — two Republicans and one Democrat, the newly elected Cory Booker. It’s interesting that the GOP which has repeatedly tried to “reach out” to the black community, hasn’t used these successes more effectively. There is a proper balance that they have failed to strike between promoting people of color within the party as spokespeople, instead of reflecting at all on the policies those people of color are promoting.
For all of their rhetoric, they always stop short of actually engaging people of color and putting forth policies that help them in their daily lives.
A policy agenda that would positively impact communities of color and not two black Republican senators will determine whether the GOP can gain any traction at all as demographic shifts make it increasingly hard for them to win national elections.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.