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article imageDashed hopes for African-American stars in US midterms

By Nova SAFO (AFP)     Nov 7, 2018 in Politics

They were poised to break new ground two years after America's first black president ended his final term in office, but the US midterms proved a disappointment for African-American candidates, including some of Democrats' brightest stars.

In Florida, Andrew Gillum failed to become the southern state's first black governor, losing by less than 60,000 votes out of more than eight million cast.

Stacey Abrams, who hoped to become the first female black governor of Georgia, trailed as the last of the votes were being counted in that Republican-leaning southern state.

The candidates raised massive amounts of money, had high-profile endorsements from celebrities and political leaders, and the national media spotlight.

Still, they were unable to claim the winner's prize in those important and fiercely contested states.

"If their votes had gone just a few tens of thousands the other way, the narrative would have been completely different," said University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald.

Former president Barack Obama campaigned for Andrew Gillum (L)  who fell short in his run to be the ...
Former president Barack Obama campaigned for Andrew Gillum (L), who fell short in his run to be the first black governor of Florida

In another disappointment, Ben Jealous, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, failed to unseat the Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan.

"Jealous was going against a popular incumbent, so that was going to be a difficult election," McDonald said.

- 10 years after Obama -

The losses come 10 years after Americans surmounted a towering cultural barrier by electing Barack Obama as their first black president.

"Our work goes on," Obama said Monday in a statement congratulating Democrats on wresting control of the House of Representatives from Republicans as well as on wins in several state capitals.

Andrew Gillum  (L) the Democratic candidate for Florida governor  greets a supporter during his camp...
Andrew Gillum, (L) the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, greets a supporter during his campaign
Michele Eve Sandberg, AFP

"The change we need won't come from one election alone -- but it is a start," he added.

Analysts estimated that about 30 million more people voted Tuesday than in the 2014 midterms, and there were some important victories for African Americans.

Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Jahana Hayes achieved the same distinction in Connecticut.

"When a woman of color talks about running for higher office, folks don't just talk about a glass ceiling," Pressley said in her election night speech. "What they describe is a concrete one."

Overall, 40 women of color were headed to the House -- including the first two Native American women and the first two Muslim women, one of whom was a Somali immigrant.

- 'Backbone' of Democrats -

In another victory, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that restored voting rights to convicted felons.

The restriction was widely seen as an example of the type of barriers erected to suppress the votes of African Americans.

"That alone will have an impact in future (Florida) elections for progressives," Danyelle Solomon, director of race and ethnicity policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

"African-Americans are the backbone of the Democratic Party."

But losses in the most high-profile races were especially disappointing -- coming after big expectations that fueled voter enthusiasm.

A supporter shows off a custom Abrams/Obama t-shirt during a campaign rally for Georgia Democratic g...
A supporter shows off a custom Abrams/Obama t-shirt during a campaign rally for Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams
Jessica McGowan, GETTY/AFP/File

Media titan Oprah Winfrey knocked on doors for Abrams -- to the astonishment of some Georgia residents. Obama campaigned for Gillum in Florida. Bernie Sanders rallied with Jealous in Maryland.

The heated races in Florida and Georgia took on racial overtones that offered reminders of the American South's white supremacist past.

Gillum's Republican opponent Ron DeSantis said in a Fox News interview early in the campaign that voters should not "monkey this up" by voting for the black mayor of Tallahassee.

Gillum accused DeSantis of cozying up to white supremacists -- charges the Republican denied.

"I'm not calling Mr DeSantis a racist," Gillum said during a debate. "I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist."

- Voter suppression claims -

In Georgia, overt racism reared up days before the election with a robo-call produced by an anti-Semitic group.

"This is the magical Negro Oprah Winfrey asking you to make my fellow Negress Stacey Abrams the governor of Georgia," the recording said.

Abrams's Republican opponent Brian Kemp disavowed the recording as "vile" and "absolutely disgusting."

Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state in charge of elections, was accused of suppressing the minority vote in a red state with slowly shifting demographics.

A federal judge ruled against him days before the election -- finding Kemp's requirement that registration forms had to exactly match government records was too burdensome.

Critics argued tens of thousands of mostly minority residents stood to lose their right to vote because of the "exact match" requirement.

Similar voter suppression accusations were made in North Dakota, Texas and Kansas.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson said Wednesday that candidates had surely been negatively impacted.

"Let's be clear, voter suppression played a huge role in the silencing of the political voices of the Black community and all people of color," Johnson said in a statement.

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