There is hope in the black community that they can improve on the poor voter turnout the Clinton Trump presidential election inspired. The 2016 election saw the black voter turnout rate decline for the first time in 20 years, falling to 59.6% after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012.
With a rise in racial tensions across the country and the ever growing divide between those with power and those without, many black candidates are looking to contest a number of important races for Congress, governorships and various statewide offices in the upcoming 2020 elections.
Here we take a look at some of those candidates looking to reshape the landscape and color of 21st century American politics.
Marquita Bradshaw – U.S. Senate for Tennessee
This 46 year old Tennessee native is the first African American woman to win a major political party nomination in any statewide race in Tennessee. She came to national attention after her stunning victory against Army pilot James Mackler in the state’s Democratic primary. Mackler was expected to win easily and managed to raise $2.1 million to fund his campaign. Despite only raising $24,000, Bradshaw would collect 35.5% of the votes, while Mackler came third with 23.8%.
She is now running against Republican businessman Bill Hagerty to replace Republican Senator Lamar Alexander who has decided to retire. Hagerty, a Trump ally, will be confident of victory as Republicans have held both of Tennessee’s Senate seats since 1994. However, as Bradshaw has already demonstrated, she is more than capable of upsetting the applecart.
As a passionate environmentalist and someone who has worked closely with community advocacy groups, Bradshaw is running on a platform that supports the Green New Deal, a living wage and criminal justice reform.
Danyell Lanier – U.S. House of Representatives for 2nd District, Oklahoma
There are many things that make Danyell Lanier stand out as a candidate. Her identity as a Black woman and a member of the Cherokee Nation and her honorable service in the U.S. Navy. However, in a time of a global health crisis, her current career in healthcare administration seems something Oklahomans are in great need of right now.
Her opponent Republican Markwayne Mullin is also a Cherokee Nation member but angered many of his constituents back in 2017 when he claimed at a town hall meeting that it was “bullcrap” that taxpayers pay his salary. He also promised to serve for only three terms (six years) but reneged on that promise by running for a fourth term in 2018.
The health of Oklahomans has been a major priority in Lanier’s platform as she has said she wants to provide the people of the state with clean air and water, improved infrastructure, and affordable healthcare.
Jaime Harrison – U.S. Senate for South Carolina
A key state and a possible indicator of where the country might be heading in the upcoming election is South Carolina. Its incumbent, senator Lindsey Graham, has been an essential ally for Trump in Congress and to see him defeated would be a major feather in the cap for Biden and the Democrats.
Graham seems particularly unnerved by Harrison’s ability to generate funds, $57 million, the largest quarterly total by a U.S. Senate candidate ever. Added to that was the fact that Harrison was originally trailing Graham by as much as 23 points in March 2019 but recent polls show he is now two points ahead.
In a time of racial injustice, the moderate Democrat Harrison has emerged as a prominent voice in a state that has an uncomfortable history when it comes to race relations. Although he supports environmental responsibility and affordable healthcare, he has distanced himself from supporting the Green New Deal or Medicare for All.
Candace Valenzuela – U.S. House of Representatives for 24th District, Texas
The two main candidates for U.S. House of Representatives for 24th District’s journey to the ballot box could not be more different. While the Republican nominee Beth Van Duyne has been a career politician, serving as mayor of Irving, Texas, from 2011 through 2017, Candace Valenzuela’s journey is one shared by the very people she is trying to garner votes from.
With her mother escaping domestic violence, Valenzuela found herself homeless at a young age, battling a chronic health condition and now a single mother herself, if Valenzuela takes victory, she will be the first self-identified Afro-Latina woman in Congress, in fact no woman or person of color has ever held that seat.
Her platform of criminal justice, immigration reform and protecting women’s right to choose will see her collect many votes as a blue wave seems to be sweeping over Texas at the moment.
Raphael Warnock – U.S. Senate for Georgia
Spending the past 15 years as senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic congregation that Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. led for many years, Reverend Raphael Warnock has already garnered support from some of the heavy hitters of Democratic politics, including former presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter.
He is trying to unseat incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was named successor to Senator Johnny Isakson after he was forced to resign due to poor health. Loeffler is a Trump supporter and has openly called for him to be elected for a second term. In stark contrast, Rev. Warnock is a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, is pro-choice and an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and hope to win the seat to bring justice back to his state.
Dr. Cameron Webb – U.S. House of Representative for 5th Congressional District, Virginia
This 37-year-old Virginia native is hoping to add Congressman to an already impressive C.V. Webb is a practicing physician, serving as the Director of Health Policy and Equity at UVA’s School of Medicine, a lawyer and a professor at the University of Virginia, He is looking to win big in district that has long been a Republican stronghold. The 2016 election attested to that with Trump winning the district by 11 points.
Dr. Webb hopes to take the seat from the self confessed “biblical conservative,” Republican Senator Bob Good. Many commentators and pundits see this as a close contest between Webb and Good as there is a clear defining line between each candidates policies and persona’s.
While the Confederacy-supporting, anti-LGBTQ+ Good is loud and clear in his conservatism, Dr. Webb might have the edge, as he pushes to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and has called for criminal justice reform. In a time of a global health crisis, having a practicing physician serving in Congress could do nothing but help. If he does win he will be the only Black physician in Congress.
Mike Espy – U.S. Senate for Mississippi
Much like with boxing, there is a rematch on the cards after Espy was narrowly defeated by former Democrat turned Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2018. The contest then was a tight one as both candidates saw 41% of the vote in the closest U.S. Senate election in Mississippi since 1988. Although Hyde-Smith refused to debate her opponent in the campaign she reluctantly decided to do so and eventually was declared the victor.
As close as the battle was in 2018, the fact that Espy garnered so much support will hold him in good stead. Hyde-Smith has not done herself any favors as she has been accused of making light of lynching and courted more controversy by suggesting it would be “a great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote.
With healthcare the centerpiece of his campaign and in a state with a higher percentage of Black citizens than any other, Espy might not just go the twelve rounds again with Hyde-Smith but this time win by a knock out, especially if black turnout is high in November.
Adrian Perkins – U.S. Senate for Louisiana
The current Mayor of Shreveport Adrian Perkins may find himself in a rather congested field for the Senate seat, 15 candidates in total, but he already a proven track record in governing. The Harvard Law School graduate and an Army veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has used his time effectively in office, most notably by supporting community-oriented policing which has seen a noticeable reduction in crime.
Although his opponent Bill Cassidy was the first Republican victory for the seat since William P. Kellogg in 1883, his alignment with senator Lindsey Graham and their introduction of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has lost him much support among the vulnerable populations in Louisiana, including seniors and veterans. The very groups Perkins has promised to fight for should he win the seat.