With a record number of Black candidates running for office this year, there has been a lot of excitement about what their wins could mean in November.
From Stacey Abrams in Georgia to Andrew Gillum in Florida, earning votes could translate into making history as the first Black governors of their states (for Abrams, the first Black woman governor ever). But how can these candidates, who are mostly newcomers to the political game, compete in traditionally red states, so much so, that they’ll gain the trust of the majority of voters?
Veteran political strategist Donna Brazile and former RNC chairman Michael Steele, weighed in Tuesday night during “The Future Is Now: Reviving Civility” lecture at Howard University, sponsored by WHUT-TV.
“It matters who you surround yourself with,” Steele told theGrio exclusively. “Oftentimes what happens in these campaigns is consultants come in and they reshape the personality of the candidate. I’ve already begun to see it happen in a couple races and it’s unfortunate. My bet is they lose.”
“The one thing people have a nose for is authenticity. They can smell crap a mile away. Particularly in the Black community, we’ll sit very politely… ‘But I ain’t voting for you,'” Steele continued.
“You’ve got to know ‘when you’ve crossed that point where people see you as something other than yourself.”
Steele praised what he sees as a strong start for Gillum, who defied polls and won the Democratic primary in Florida last month.
“I’ve watched Andrew Gillum on a number of shows, like ‘Meet The Press.’ I was like yeah, he’s got it. It comes through. It comes through the box, that authenticity.”
“There’s a playbook for African-Americans running statewide,” Brazile told theGrio after the lecture at Howard University.
Highlighting the past wins of Governor Deval Patrick, President Barack Obama, and former Senator Carol Mosely Braun, Brazile points out that winning political campaigns has to be more than just a popularity contest for these Black candidates.
“If you look at history, you have to be a viable candidate and prove that. They have been able to build coalitions. Now, it’s time for them to broaden their message and their appeal because independents are the key to winning in the fall.”
Brazile also offered praise for Abrams, saying her efforts in Georgia are enlarging the electorate with appeals to independents.
“We have a record number of African-Americans also running for Congress. One hundred percent of the Democrats who are newly elected nominees and you have women winning their primaries… It’s huge, just the sheer volume,” said Brazile.
“I’m telling all of them, go beyond their base. Yes, the base is important, but they have to build a bridge which will take them over and allow them to win.”
Steele agrees wholeheartedly.
“Go where you’re least expected to go,” Steele said. “If you’re a Democrat, running as a Progressive even, in a state that you know you’re going to win, still go into a community that’s not one that’s necessarily going to support you.”
Brazile believes that the old rules are changing, pointing to the recent win of Ayanna Pressley as just one example of the new wave of young leaders stepping up and refusing to wait their turn.
“Cookie cutter campaigns just don’t work anymore,” Brazile said. “The American people don’t want that. They don’t want something stale; they want something fresh. They also want the leadership of these young people coming up through the ranks, who I do believe will make a huge difference this fall.”
Natasha S. Alford is Deputy Editor and Digital Host at theGrio.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @natashasalford for live political updates from the nation’s capitol this fall.