These Black candidates are aiming to make Black history in 2022 midterm elections

EXCLUSIVE: TheGrio takes a look at some of the races to watch this election cycle in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

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The 2022 midterm elections are officially underway as early voting kicked off in Texas on Monday. This year’s statewide contests are sure to be closely watched, but at theGrio we’re particularly paying attention to elections that stand to make Black history if successful.

In the Lone Star State, civil rights attorney Lee Merritt is banking on a win for Texas attorney general when all the votes are counted this November. 

The Morehouse College graduate, who was propelled into the national spotlight after his legal work representing the family Ahmaud Arbery and other similar legal battles, is working hard to be the first Black person elected as Texas’s chief legal officer.

Wanda Cooper, left, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, and attorney Lee Merritt, leave the Glynn County courthouse during a court appearance by Gregory and Travis McMichael, two suspects in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, on June 4, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery was killed on February 23. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Merritt has become a familiar face and voice in the fight for civil rights, police accountability and anti-vigilantism. He has garnered the ear of President Joe Biden and administration officials along with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. So much so that he has been instrumental in outside recommendations on how the White House should address police reform, including expected executive orders from Biden after the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act failed to pass in Congress. 

Merritt’s work has the backing of many, including Houston’s own Megan Pete, better known as rap phenom Megan the Stallion, who officially endorsed him weeks ago and is on the campaign trail to get him elected as Texas’s next attorney general. 

His campaign is focused on various issues, however, voting reform is currently the issue that stands in the balance for his campaign. Texas is in the midst of a legal battle against the U.S. Department of Justice. A recent DOJ lawsuit filed against the state claims that Black and Latino voters have been marginalized due to recent changes to Texas’s statewide redistricting plans of its congressional map.

As Merritt acknowledged to theGrio, what is critical for him is that state residents are inspired by his legal work that has been spotlighted nationally. It’s important, I think that you mentioned a lot of our various cases or the case of the McMichaels and Bryan (men convicted in Arbery’s murder) because it creates an example of the kind of work that should be being done in Texas in order to get the outcome that we got in Arbery’s case,” said the Black attorney. 

Merritt said his work is making a difference in fostering when it comes to police-involved killings in Black communities. He sees it as a “progressive change” and is non-partisan. “And so now I see Republicans getting in on police accountability of professional accountability for municipalities. And so it takes it out of the realm of a partisan issue, and it makes it more just about justice,” Merritt added.

The overall vote, particularly that of minority voters in the long held Republican state, is of the utmost importance to Merritt as he recalls the last state attorney general election was decided by less than 4% of the vote

He said, if Democrats can increase Black and Brown votes even marginally the party could flip Texas. “If Black and Brown voter engagement increased just marginally because they’re inspired by Arbery’s case and the work that we’ve been doing with the White House and around the country, it represents an issue for the U.S. Senate and being involved in legislation. If we can increase Black and Brown voter turnout, even marginally, Democrats can flip Texas,” Merritt told theGrio.

That Democratic effort to maintain and build on how the party won the White House currently is an uphill battle as Republicans are anticipating a red wave to upset the Democratic applecart in the primary and general elections this year.

Midterms are expected to be a game changer for both political parties in the upcoming months if the recent data from pollsters holds true with anticipation of a number of Republican wins. The irony is former Republican President Donald Trump, who lost his reelection bid to Biden in the 2020 election, is out front working toward the political upset. 

Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher of Brilliant Corners told theGrio that the Biden administration still has time to change the minds of Americans. The optics from the White House, he said, has to present a picture of constant wins for the kind of election victories Democrats need to prevent a Trump-led Republican tidal wave at the end of the year. 

“The base of the [Democratic] Party is not enthusiastic and energized. Their lack of enthusiasm and energy makes it harder to mobilize them,” said Belcher.

The Black Democratic pollster looks to 2010 as the example of the current problem faced by Democrats and expects things to “ebb” saying, “historically you have an older, whiter electorate” that is “less diverse,” “older” and “more conservative.” If the current dynamics don’t change, Belcher said, we will have 2010 again like what happened with former President Barack Obama, when Democrats lost the House and several seats in the Senate during his first term as America’s first Black president. 

TheGrio is taking a look at some of the Black candidates running for office in this midterm election cycle.

Currently the United State Senate has no Black women seated. The word representation is echoing loudly in the halls of the Senate as the last Black woman to hold a seat in that chamber was then United States Senator Kamala Harris who now serves as Vice President of the United States. 

Cheri Beasley of North Carolina is stumping for votes hopeful to become that Black woman in the United States Senate from the now purple state of North Carolina. If successful, it would not only bring Black women representation back to the Senate, but would be the first Black woman elected to the chamber in the state’s history.

Cheri Beasley, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, speaks with Leonardo and Zweli Williams, co-owners of Zwelis, a Zimbabwean restaurant, in Durham, North Carolina on July 7, 2021. (Photo by Allison Lee Isley for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Beasley has already proven she is a winner in prior elections, being a statewide elected official for over a decade as the former chief justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court and before that a judge for the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

“I am the only candidate in this race who has had two successful statewide [North Carolina] elections, and I knew it was going to be really important to poll well and it was going to be important to perform well at all the indicators that we use to determine likelihood of success,” Beasley told theGrio.

Beasley understands what a win in her election would do not only for Black people and women but for the entire country. “I hope that people – not just in North Carolina, but across this country – really appreciate the magnitude of this election and really understand that my candidacy really offers the best opportunity to expand the majority in the Senate. We can do this,” she said.

“But we still have to make sure that this Senate represents the people of this country and all of our interests, and we can do what we have to do to make sure that we’re getting people out to vote and to help them understand that even if they are experiencing challenges around this pandemic, it’s so much more…there really must be a nexus between those challenges and who offers them something to serve and the fact that the Senate really must be responsive.”

The retired judge is seizing the moment and is laser focused on Black women representation, particularly as a Black woman nominee. 

“I did serve as a judge for 22 years, and I know it’s really important to make sure that people are treated fairly, and I also know that when there’s an African-American woman on the Senate floor and lifting up issues that people care deeply about – around access to health care and climate change and clean air and clean water, and how that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities,” said Beasley.

“It matters to have the perspective of someone who understands and appreciates and cares about and who will fight for and who will stand for what’s right.”

Another election candidate vying to make history this election cycle is U.S. Congressman Anthony Brown who is hoping to leave his Maryland Congressional seat to “make a much bigger impact in the lives of Marylanders” as the state’s attorney general. There has never been an African American elected to that office. 

Rep. Anthony G. Brown, D-Md., listens at a press conference about President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Capitol Wednesday July 18, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

“Attorney generals’ representation matters, impacting how cases are adjudicated in our criminal justice system, our civil courts. And I think it’s important, particularly in Maryland, which is one of the most diverse states in the country. It’s time that we have an attorney general who reflects that diversity,” Brown told theGrio.

Brown said his top priorities if elected as Maryland’s next attorney general would be, “Certainly public safety, civil rights and workers’ rights,” adding that ”there are more priorities than that in the office of the attorney general. But those are areas where I think we need to make greater progress.”

He added, “I’m not going to just advise the legislature on whether proposed legislation is constitutional and fits within a legal framework. But is it aspirational – Does it achieve the objectives of breaking down barriers of addressing inequities, whether it’s in health care or education? And I will be advising them in such a way that gets them to yes on making opportunities available to more Marylanders and not fewer Marylanders.”

Brown believes the congressional seat he is leaving will be safe, as his potential successor for the very blue 4th congressional district of Maryland is expected to be a Democrat.

Meanwhile, another midterm election that stands to make history is the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania. Malcolm Kenyatta, 31, is vying to be elected as the nation’s first openly gay Black United States Senator. 

Malcolm Kenyatta attends the Inaugural Independence Dinner, hosted by Pennsylvania Democratic Party, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, in Philadelphia, PA, on November 1, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“I will say this, if we’re ever going to have a country that reflects the fullness of the American promise. If what I call the basic bargain, if that’s going to become accessible to everybody, then you know what? We’re going to have to have a government that reflects the fullness of the American experience,” Kenyatta told theGrio.

Again representation in the United States Capitol is a large part of the conversation in these races, and particularly for Kenyatta who recently married his husband a few weeks ago. “I’ll be only the 12th African American to serve in the U.S. Senate, the first openly gay man to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. That’s not lost on me,” he said. 

“But what’s more important as we run this race is that…we are going to actually elect a working person to the U.S. Senate.”

Kenyatta, who lost both his parents by the age of 27, said he stands on their shoulders as well as the shoulders of working-class Americans who need a voice to represent them. 

“This entire campaign comes down to answering a fundamental question of what do we think the government should work for? I think it should work for working families,” he told theGrio. “I think that the basic bargain of a good job, good education for your kids, a safe community and the ability to go to the doctor and actually fill the prescription when you leave the appointment. All of that is at risk right now.”

The current issues on the national and local level are a prime focus for this young political mover who said he focuses on all communities. However, Kenyatta said, “it matters that we have somebody who knows what it means in their bones to work a minimum wage job, not as just a high school thing to do, but as a minimum wage job to provide for yourself. 

He added, “When we think about health outcomes, this pandemic has certainly shown how the social safety net, which was in tatters for so many low-income, particularly Black and Brown communities…this pandemic has made it all the much worse.”

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