Well, the primary data are now in — and Johnson’s claim that 2010 would be a record year is out the window. Only 13 African Americans are left running for the House on the GOP ticket this fall. That’s a higher number than in recent cycles, but nowhere near record levels — and far below the number running just a decade ago.
As recently as 2000, 23 African Americans ran as GOP nominees for the House, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the leading national institution that gathers data on African American elected officials and general election candidates. (It stands to reason an even greater number were candidates before the field was whittled by primaries.)
As Garance Franke-Ruta reports, the banner year for black Republicans was 1994, when 24 ran as nominees for congressional office. Of those, only J.C. Watts made it to Congress, where he was the House GOP's sole black member for almost a decade. Of the 79 black Republicans who ran for congressional office during that period, none would follow Watts into the House.
This doesn't come as a surprise; it's not just that African Americans support Democrats in overwhelming numbers but that Democrats have invested time and effort into building political networks within African American communities. Rarely do Republicans take the time to build those ties within black communities, even when the candidates are well positioned to do so. Tim Scott will almost certainly win the election to represent South Carolina's 1st District, but as a Tea Party conservative with a base outside of the area's black population, odds are good that he won't spend much time attracting African American votes. Simply put, if you're young, black, and an aspiring politician, the Democratic Party is usually the only game in town, and that isn't going to change anytime soon.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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