By BILL BARROW, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) – Jennifer McClellan remembers her parents’ life as black southerners enduring segregation and trauma and the triumph of the civil rights movement.
It showed him that the government can be “a powerful force to improve the lives of people”, but also “which oppresses some, ignores others”.
A generation later, despite her interest in public service, there was no obvious path for someone like her.
“There weren’t many role models … examples of black women” in power, McClellan said in an interview. Now she’s a 48-year-old state senator who introduces herself as governor: “We’re in a very different Virginia.”
McClellan’s candidacy alongside Democratic primary candidate Jennifer Carroll Foy demonstrates the growing political power of black women, long a bedrock of Democrats’ victories, and more recently, as candidates and office holders, of the Vice President Kamala Harris to the mayors of Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco. .
McClellan and Carroll Foy, a 39-year-old former lawmaker, are trying to break down another barrier by becoming the first black woman to win a governor’s race in any state. They are decided as the losers to former governor Terry McAuliffe in the June 8 primary in Virginia. Yet they are still part of a wave of black women nominations for the Democratic Party, not only for local and legislative positions, but also for state-wide offices that are again new ground for women. black.
“We’re normalizing black women’s leadership (and) seeing black women in every ballot so it’s second nature to voters,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, which supports black female candidates.
Besides Virginia, two black women are running for the US Senate from North Carolina in 2022: former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Cheri Beasley and former lawmaker Erica Smith. In Florida, US Representative Val Demings is running for Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s seat. In Georgia, voting rights activist and former legislative leader Stacey Abrams is expected to run for president in 2022.
Steve Schale, a white strategist who has helped President Barack Obama win Florida twice, said consensus was growing that black women can assemble the ideal alliance of Democrats for wide elections. state: older black voters, younger voters across racial and ethnic lines, urban white liberals, and fairly moderate whites, especially women, in metropolitan areas.
“This is the next step after Obama,” Schale said. “They can rebuild this coalition as well as anyone.”
Both Virginia candidates say black women are right at the moment.
“I’m tired of fighting the same fights my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents fought, and I can’t leave that to my kids,” recalls McClellan in thought as he watched George’s video. Floyd, a black man, died below the knee of a white Minnesota policeman last year.
Carroll Foy links his biography – a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and working in low-wage jobs and as a public advocate – to his political strategy. “There is intersectionality … coming from one of the poorest communities in Virginia” and the selling of political ideas to all working and middle class voters, she said in an interview.
In addition to no black women serving as governor, only two of them have been elected to the US Senate, and the chamber does not currently have one. The next goal, Carr said, is for black women to associate their voting power with 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 cities in the United States, up from one less than ten years ago. The number of black women in state legislatures has nearly doubled in two decades, to over 4%.
“We can celebrate,” Carr said, “while recognizing the work that needs to be done.”
At the very least, the strong campaigns of black women so early in the midterm cycle stand out from previous years.
In 2017, as Georgian Abrams prepared for her first candidacy for governor, the state party’s white power brokers 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 beat his handpicked main opponent and got 55,000 votes out of 4 million votes for beating Republican Brian Kemp. Soon after, Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer courted her to run for the Senate. She refused but recruited Reverend Raphael Warnock. Warnock, a black man, won his January second round by 2 points, a wider margin than his white colleague, Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff, managed in a side competition.
As 2022 approaches, Georgia Democrats are uniformly handing over the top of the ticket to Abrams, who is publicly a mom but is expected to run.
“She’s proven that you don’t have to follow conventional wisdom,” McClellan said.
National Democrats have followed suit in Senate recruiting and approvals. The Senate Democrats’ campaign arm appears determined to be much more deliberate on approvals during the 2022 cycle, rather than publicly anointing preferred candidates early on.
As of 2020, the committee has backed North Carolina Democrat Cal Cunningham, a white moderate, over other contenders, including Smith. Cunningham, who admitted to having an extramarital affair last campaign month, lost 1.8 points, or nearly 100,000 votes. Beasley, then sitting Supreme Court chief justice, lost his candidacy for re-election in the same general election by just over 400 votes.
Finney cited her focus group research which found that white women were becoming more open to supporting black women. Black female candidates, she said, can take advantage of the public’s frustration when it goes wrong. Voters “see women as collaborative leaders, and women of color are not seen as part of what is already broken,” Finney said, even though they have already held office because they are “strangers.” natural ”.
Beasley and Demings, Finney noted, have backgrounds in the legal and criminal justice system: Beasley as a member of the bench, Demings as the former Orlando police chief. This, Finney said, could help them resist Republican caricatures of themselves as “extremists” or “radicals,” common tropes that black female candidates have faced in general election campaigns.
In Virginia, McClellan and Carroll Foy describe their nominations as progress, with caveats.
Carroll Foy has endorsements from Higher Heights and EMILY’s List, which advocates for abortion rights. She’s raised millions, but not at McAuliffe’s pace, a stupendous fundraiser since her days as President Bill Clinton’s reelection co-chair in 1996.
“Obviously the structures in place are not made for a woman of color to show up and win the leadership position,” said Carroll Foy.
McClellan said voters beyond the political class are “ready for someone with that different perspective,” while many insiders still believe that “if there’s a white man in the race you have to wait. your turn”.
Indeed, McAuliffe works with a lot of black support. Among his campaign co-chairs is the most senior black member of the General Assembly, Senate Speaker Pro Tem Louise Lucas.
She credited McAuliffe with real outreach to non-white communities and said she “goes back three decades” with the 64-year-old Democrat.
“I’m excited about all the black and brunette women running for positions across the country,” Lucas said. “This is not a problem for any of my sisters.”
Yet the 77-year-old senator implicitly questioned whether black women could win a general election in Virginia. “Rather than speculating,” said Lucas, “I would rather say that I think Terry is in the best position and in the best position to win.”
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