AP

Black women’s next targets: governorships and Senate seats

May 31, 2021, 4:28 AM | Updated: Jun 1, 2021, 1:20 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — Jennifer McClellan remembers her parents’ recounting life as Black Southerners enduring segregation and the trauma and triumph of the civil rights movement.

It showed her that government can be “a powerful force for improving people’s lives” but also one “that oppresses some, ignores others.”

A generation later, despite her interest in public office, there was no obvious pathway for someone like her.

“There weren’t a lot of role models … examples of Black women” in power, said McClellan in an interview. Now, she’s a 48-year-old state senator running for governor herself: “We’re in a very different Virginia.”

McClellan’s candidacy alongside fellow Democratic primary candidate Jennifer Carroll Foy demonstrates the rising political power of Black women, long a foundation of Democrats’ victories, and more recently, as candidates and officeholders, from Vice President Kamala Harris to mayors in Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco.

McClellan and Carroll Foy, a 39-year-old former legislator, are trying to break another barrier by becoming the first Black woman to win a governor’s race in any state. They are decided underdogs to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s June 8 primary. Yet they’re nonetheless part of a surge in candidacies by Black women in the Democratic Party, not just for local and legislative posts but also statewide offices that are still new ground for Black women.

“We are normalizing Black women’s leadership (and) seeing Black women on every ballot so that it’s second nature for voters,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, which backs Black female candidates.

In addition to Virginia, two Black women are running for U.S. Senate from North Carolina in 2022: former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and former legislator Erica Smith. In Florida, U.S. Rep. Val Demings is running for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat. In Georgia, voting rights activist and former legislative leader Stacey Abrams is expected to make a second run for governor in 2022.

Steve Schale, a white strategist who helped President Barack Obama win Florida twice, said it’s a developing consensus that Black women can assemble Democrats’ ideal alliance for statewide elections: older Black voters, younger voters across racial and ethnic lines, urban white liberals and enough white moderates, especially women, in metro areas.

“This is the next step post-Obama,” Schale said. “They can rebuild that coalition as well as anyone.”

Both Virginia candidates say Black women are right for the moment.

“I am tired of fighting the same fights that my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents fought, and I cannot leave that to my children,” McClellan recalled thinking when she watched the video of George Floyd, a Black man, dying under the knee of a white police officer in Minnesota last year.

Carroll Foy ties her biography — graduating from Virginia Military Institute and working in low-wage jobs and as a public defender — to her political strategy. “There’s intersectionality … coming from one of the poorest communities in Virginia” and selling policy ideas to all working- and middle-class voters, she said in an interview.

In addition to no Black woman serving as governor, only two have been elected to the U.S. Senate, and the chamber has none now. The next goal, Carr said, is for Black women to match their voting power to their representation.

Congress began this year with a record 25 Black women out of 435 House members. Black women are mayors in seven of the 100 most populous U.S. cities, up from one less than a decade ago. The number of Black women in state legislatures has nearly doubled in two decades, to more than 4%.

“We can celebrate,” Carr said, “but still recognize the work that needs to be done.”

At the least, strong campaigns from Black women so early in the midterm cycle stand out compared to previous years.

In 2017, as Georgia’s Abrams was preparing for her first bid for governor, white power brokers in the state party recruited one of her fellow state lawmakers, a white woman, to run against her.

“They should have been ashamed,” said Karen Finney, a prominent Black Democratic consultant and Abrams ally. “She proved them all wrong.”

Abrams trounced her hand-picked primary opponent and came within 55,000 votes out of 4 million cast of defeating Republican Brian Kemp. Soon after, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer courted her to run for Senate. She declined but recruited the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Warnock, a Black man, won his January runoff by 2 points, a wider margin than his white colleague, Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, managed in a parallel contest.

Heading into 2022, Georgia Democrats are uniformly ceding the top of the ticket to Abrams, who is publicly mum but expected to run.

“She proved you don’t have to follow conventional wisdom,” McClellan said.

National Democrats have followed suit in Senate recruitment and endorsements. Senate Democrats’ campaign arm appears intent on being much more deliberate about endorsements in the 2022 cycle, rather than publicly anointing preferred candidates early.

Going into 2020, the committee backed North Carolina Democrat Cal Cunningham, a white moderate, over other contenders, including Smith. Cunningham, who admitted to an extramarital affair in the campaign’s final month, lost by 1.8 points, or nearly 100,000 votes. Beasley, then the sitting Supreme Court chief justice, lost her reelection bid in the same general election by just more than 400 votes.

Finney cited her focus group research that found white women becoming more open to backing Black women. Black female candidates, she said, can leverage public frustration with dysfunction. Voters “see women as collaborative leaders, and women of color are not seen as part of what’s already broken,” Finney said, even if they’ve held office already, because they are “natural outsiders.”

Beasley and Demings, Finney noted, have a background in the legal and criminal justice system: Beasley as part of the judiciary, Demings as a former Orlando police chief. That, Finney said, could help them withstand Republican caricatures of themselves as “extremist” or “radical,” common tropes that Black female candidates have faced in general election campaigns.

In Virginia, McClellan and Carroll Foy describe their candidacies as progress, with caveats.

Carroll Foy has endorsements from Higher Heights and EMILY’s List, which champions abortion rights. She’s raised in the millions, though not at pace with McAuliffe, a prodigious fundraiser since his days as President Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection co-chair.

“It’s obvious the structures in place aren’t made to have a woman of color run for and win the executive position,” Carroll Foy said.

McClellan said voters beyond the political class are “ready for someone with that different perspective,” while many insiders still believe “if there’s a white man in the race, you have to wait your turn.”

Indeed, McAuliffe is running with plenty of Black support. Among his campaign co-chairs is the highest-ranking Black member of the General Assembly, Senate President Pro Tem Louise Lucas.

She credited McAuliffe with genuine outreach to nonwhite communities and said she “goes back three decades” with the 64-year-old Democrat.

“I’m excited about all of the Black and brown women running for offices all over this nation,” Lucas said. “This is no slight to any of my sisters.”

Still, the 77-year-old senator implicitly questioned whether Black women can win a general election in Virginia. “Rather than speculate,” Lucas said, “I would prefer to say I believe Terry is best situated and suited to win.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

3 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

4 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

11 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

12 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

14 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Black women’s next targets: governorships and Senate seats