Herman Cain has earned a reputation as a Tea Party darling, but focusing his attention on the most conservative faction of the Republican party has isolated him from a potential black constituency experts say.
Not only his fiscally conservative 9-9-9 plan, but his rhetoric comparing a media fire storm over his alleged sexual harassment to a "high-tech lynching" and accusing black voters of being "brainwashed" to stay on the "democratic plantation," have left black voters disconnected from Cain.
Experts say Cain seems to be making a choice to ignore the concerns of black voters with his policies and at times belittle them with his message.
"This 'blacks don't know what is good for them' message is particularly visible and sharp coming from Cain. He wouldn't be the first black man to send that message, but in his position it is undercutting him," says the University of Chicago's Michael Dawson. [See why Herman Cain's economic plan has merit.]
Since the early 1980s at most 10 percent of black voters have cast ballots for Republicans in a general election, but Dawson says Cain's missing an opportunity to mobilize black voters in open, early primary states who might be sympathetic to his story. Getting out the black vote in New Hampshire might not make an impact, but in South Carolina—where 28 percent of voters are black—"Cain might have stood a chance," Dawson says. In an open primary, even registered Democrats can chose to vote in the Republican primary and help select an Obama alternative.
"It is clear Herman Cain has made a choice," Dawson says. "If he wanted to gain support for the primary, he'd need to be spending a lot of time in primarily black neighborhoods and focusing on economic disparity in early primary states," Dawson adds. "He would have to make the argument for why his policies would help minority communities."
Dawson says many blacks might identify with Cain's socially conservative message. According to a 2008 exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, 70 percent of black voters in California voted for Proposition 8, which elminated gay couples' rights to marry in the state. But, unlike many conservative white voters who vote based off of social issues in national elections, Dawson says blacks tend to put social issues aside and vote on economic policy, foreign relations and historical precedent. [Vote: Are the Herman Cain-Clarence Thomas Comparisons Fair?]
Starting in the 1930s with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation and then after the civil rights era of the 1960s,blacks have seen the Democratic party as a political movement that University of Michigan political science professor Vincent Hutchings says "prioritized" ending racial disparities
"In a general election, black voters are still going to be voting for Democrats because of the economic gap, between blacks and whites and the belief that Democrats are committed to social programs and protecting minority constituencies," Hutchings says. "There is a perception that the two parties represent divergent racial interests."
According to the 2010 Census, about 10 percent of non-hispanic whites lived in poverty compared with nearly 30 percent of blacks.
Just like Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, Hutchings says Herman Cain is the latest conservative to strategically ignore black voters' concerns about racial discrepancies in poverty.
"Cain's opting to align with the conservative base of the Republican party because that is who the Republican constituency is," Hutchings says. "Black voters haven't voted in the double digits for a Republican since Gerald Ford."
That isn't to say that black voters will be coming out in droves for Obama either.
In 2008, Barack Obama walked away with 96 percent of the black vote, but with unemployment for blacks at more than 15 percent in October Dawson says it isn't likely Obama will be getting all of those votes again.
"A lot of black voters are going to stay home in 2012," he says.
- Check out a slide show of GOP spouses on the 2012 campaign trail.
- Who's in and who's out: See a slide show of the 2012 GOP contenders.
- Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.