In U.S. history, only 11 Black people have served in the U.S. Senate, and only two Black men (and no Black women) have been governors. But this underrepresentation could change in November because a record 13 Black Democrats and three Black Republicans are running for these offices.
The eight Black Democrats running for the Senate and the five running for governor are outstanding. They are on the ballot in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
The Black Democrats all have strong records of working to open the doors of the American Dream to people who’ve long been shut out — including people of color, women, and people born into poverty.
Republican candidates in the races are focused on cutting taxes for the rich and cutting vital government programs that benefit the rest of us. They seek to turn back the clock on Black progress in voting rights, education, jobs, and other areas. Some support former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 presidential election.
Here’s a look at some of the key races:
Both candidates in the U.S. Senate race in Georgia — Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican opponent, former college and pro football star Herschel Walker — are Black, but have little else in common.
In their recent debate, Warnock— who is also senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached — showcased a firm grasp of the issues. He advocated for voting rights, affordable health care, racial equality, improved educational opportunities, and programs to help the disadvantaged.
Walker proved in the debate (as he had earlier) that he is unqualified to perform on the political field. His breathtaking ignorance of public policy — and his long record of lying about his background — should disqualify him. He won the GOP Senate nomination only because he had Trump’s endorsement.
Also in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams is working to become America’s first Black woman governor. In her recent debate against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, she effectively attacked him for signing bills into law to suppress the votes of Black Georgians and others who tend to vote Democratic.
Refuting Kemp’s claim that he is tough on crime, Abrams criticized him for signing a bill to allow Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit. She cited her strong support for law enforcement during her 11 years in the state Legislature but added that the state needs “safety with justice” to prevent police misconduct.
Abrams said that Kemp has taken credit for a strong state economy that was, in fact, created by federal assistance to help Georgia cope with the pandemic. She criticized Kemp for refusing to accept federal aid to expand Medicaid, saying this denied health care to about a half-million low-income Georgians.
Strong early voting turnout in Georgia is a good sign for both Warnock and Abrams. Compared to 2018 (when Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams in the gubernatorial race), overall voter turnout so far is 76 percent higher, and Black voter turnout is an amazing 126 percent higher.
Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings is seeking to become the first Black person to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate, running against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
In her recent debate against Rubio, Demings cited her 27 years in the Orlando Police Department, including serving as chief, to validate her strong anti-crime record.
Demings went on the offensive against Rubio on the crime issue, attacking him for his opposition to gun safety measures, despite mass shootings that have claimed innocent lives in Florida.
“How long will you watch people being gunned down in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, the grocery store, a movie theater, a mall, and a nightclub, and do nothing?” Demings asked Rubio.
Demings also hit Rubio hard on his efforts to outlaw most abortions. Rubio refused to answer a question asking if he would vote for a federal ban on all abortions without exception, saying he didn’t think such a bill would come to a vote in the Senate.
Democrat Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, is seeking to become North Carolina’s first Black U.S. senator, running against Republican Congressman Ted Budd.
When the two debated earlier this month, Beasley attacked Budd for his support of “an absolute ban on abortion without exceptions for rape, incest or risk to a mother’s health” and said that under that policy, “women will die.”
Budd, who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory and who earlier described the Jan. 6, 2021, riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol as “patriots standing up,” refused to say in the debate if he will accept the election result in his race if he loses.
The candidates also differ sharply on gun safety, with Beasley supporting universal background checks for gun purchases and other commonsense measures to reduce gun violence. Budd, who owns a gun store, rejects such measures.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is seeking to become Wisconsin’s first Black U.S. senator, running to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
In their most recent debate, Johnson falsely claimed that Barnes supports defunding the police. Barnes responded by saying: “It is absurd to say I am soft on crime … there is nothing I am more deeply passionate about.”
Barnes pointed out that Johnson is the candidate soft on crime because Johnson earlier expressed support for the Trump fans who broke into the Capitol and attacked police on Jan. 6, 2021.
Johnson falsely stated earlier that the Jan. 6 attackers are “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” However, prosecutors have charged at least 928 people with crimes so far, and 417 have entered guilty pleas in the attack, which left about 140 police officers injured and led to the death of one.
Johnson said earlier that he never felt threatened by the largely white Trump mob that attacked the Capitol but would have been concerned if Black Lives Matter protesters came to the Capitol.
The choice is clear. If you live in a state where Black Democrats are running for senator or governor, these candidates need your support. Early voting and mail-in voting are already underway in many states. Get off the sidelines and cast your ballot to build a better future for us all.
Veteran Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, syndicated columnist, television political commentator, Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee, and former interim National Chair of the Democratic National Committee as well as the former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute.
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Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable trust that provides support for the Word In Black collaborative, does not endorse political candidates. Word In Black, however, invites and publishes opinion essays, including this one, from vital voices and opinion makers central to creating equity in Black communities.