An unusual number of Black people are running for governors? How might they do?| Jeffries

Judson L. Jeffries
Guest columnist

Judson L. Jeffries is a professor of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University and a frequent contributor to the Columbus Dispatch.

Ask 100 people across socio-economic status how many African Americans have been elected governor in U.S. history, and chances are, three quarters or more will struggle to answer correctly.


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Deval Patrick was elected in Massachusetts in 2006, while L. Douglas Wilder was elected in Virginia in 1989.

Judson L. Jeffries

Following Wilder’s historic victory, some analysts wondered whether Wilder’s good fortune was a sign of things to come where Black high-profile statewide candidates were concern or an aberration. As time passed, the answer became clear.

As election day approaches next month, a scan of the political landscape reveals an unusual number of African Americans not only running for governor.

Democratic presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick speaks at "Our Rights, Our Courts" forum New Hampshire Technical Institute's Concord Community College, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ORG XMIT: NHAH175

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They are Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Deidre DeJear in Iowa, Yolanda Flowers in Alabama, Nuclear Engineer Chris Jones in Arkansas, and Wes Moore in Maryland. Of the five, Abrams, a Democratic voting rights activist, is the most well-known, having come up short in her race for governor against Brian Kemp four years ago, 1,923,685 to 1,978,408.

Stacey Abrams speaks to Biden supporters as they wait for former President Barack Obama to arrive and speak at a rally as he campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, at Turner Field in Atlanta.

Though she lost the election, one could argue that what she won proved even bigger.

Biden won Georgia, where the residents there hadn’t supported a Democrat for president in the previous thirty years. What’s more, Democratic political neophytes Rev. Raphael Warnock and filmmaker and journalist Jon Ossoff unseated Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the latter by a razor thin margin.

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Abrams’s massive voter registration campaign and grassroots work laid the foundation from which the campaigns of Warnock and Ossoff were launched, thus giving rise to Warnock and Ossoff becoming Georgia’s first ever Black and Jewish U.S. senators.

All five of these Black gubernatorial hopefuls are Democrats, making the road to their respective statehouses less arduous, but daunting, nonetheless.

Ken Blackwell

Black Republicans usually have a tougher row to hoe, as many Black voters are leery of Black Republicans due to party ID and some white voters tend to shy away from Black candidates due to race.

Ken Blackwell, a highly qualified candidate, and seasoned politician with significant statewide elected office experience was saddled with this reality when he ran for governor of Ohio in 2006. He received no more than 36% of the total vote, and less than a quarter of the Black vote.

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Perhaps the most intriguing of the five races is in Maryland where Rhodes Scholar and political neophyte Wes Moore is squaring off against Delegate Dan Cox, and at this writing holds a healthy double-digit lead over the Republican.

Two weeks ago, the polls showed that voters favored Moore 35% to 21% for Cox. Although pre-election polls have proven precarious when gauging elections where Blacks and whites are competing for the same seat, only once in the history of gubernatorial elections has a Black candidate held such a huge lead over a white opponent this late in the campaign, that being Deval Patrick over Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in 2006.

Raphael Warnock outside the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 30, 2015, a few months after giving a sermon that later drew criticism in an ad by his Senate opponent, Herschel Walker.

As for the dynamic Stacey Abrams, she faces an uphill climb, because history has shown that Black candidates who lose high-profile statewide elections, of which the office of governor is one (U.S. Senate is the other) don’t fare as well as the second time around.

Few surprises are expected next month, for of the five Black candidates running for governor, only Abrams has ever held elected office, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017.

Next month she will be afforded the opportunity to revise history when she faces off against the same candidates to whom she lost in 2018. We’ll see what happens.

Judson L. Jeffries is a professor of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University and a frequent contributor to the Columbus Dispatch.