Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Race and the Maryland Governor's Race

I am not saying that David’s Lublin’s piece today (AutopsyPart III) is hack-work, but he misses some important points.

His section on the “over-reliance on Republican racism” in particular is off-the-mark.  Governor Hogan’s positioning wasn’t designed so much to appeal to Black voters, but to persuade white voters that a vote for Hogan wasn’t a vote for a racist.

Let me walk through this line of thinking for a moment.  There are certain topics that don’t register as highly salient on standard survey questions (such as: “What is the most important problem facing the United States/Maryland/your local community at the present time?”).  Abortion usually polls in the single-digits on such open-ended issue questions.  However, whether a candidate is pro-choice or pro-life is like oxygen for many voters…the absence of the “correct position” is instantly disqualifying.

A similar dynamic is at play when it comes to race.  Now, white voters may be reluctant to support a racist candidate or, and this is a critical difference, they may say they are disinclined to back a racist candidate…but end up voting for them anyway (see: Helms, Jesse; Gantt, Harvey; North Carolina; 1990).  But if a GOP candidate positions themselves as “good” or at least “neutral” (as if there is such a thing) on race, they can assuage the fears of white voters who would be mightily offended if they were called racist.

Hogan did a good job insulating himself from most charges of racism. One could argue that several of Hogan’s actions were grounded in racist beliefs and/or supported by racists…the cancellation of the Red Line and how he handled issues pertaining to Baltimore City schools leap to mind.  In both cases, Hogan’s position was in line with not only the vast majority of Republican voters…but also a sizable percentage of white independents and Democrats.  It was this sort of broad appeal, combined with a “nice guy” image of a Governor (who is, by the by, married to an Asian woman and who also picked a Black Lieutenant Governor) that helped convince voters, mostly white voters, that it would be “OK” to cast a ballot for Hogan since Hogan "must be" "OK" on race...

Hogan’s campaign was also in a position where they largely didn’t have to go negative against the Democratic nominee, Ben Jealous. They (and some independent expenditure groups) did, but not enough to rankle most Black voters and white moderates.  So this allowed Hogan to maintain his “good guy who would not exploit racial fears” image.

And this is the other side of the equation, if Jealous were white yet an insurgent (such as Bernie Sanders)  – I believe his campaign would have been better funded.  If Jealous was Black and “establishment” – his campaign would have had more resources.  Being both Black and an insurgent is a key point of differentiation.  Lublin brought up Abrams and Gillum.  Abrams was a progressive, yet establishment, candidate who crushed her primary opponent by a 76% - 24% margin. Andrew Gillum was a progressive, yet establishment, candidate who faced off against 2 1/2 serious and 3 1/2 minor challengers.  Jealous was painted, by some, as some sort of Black Radical Socialist (which considering his establishment credentials with the NAACP and as a venture capitalist would have been a laughable communications frame had it not been so effective).  Jealous also faced off against several worthy opponents in the primary…and some seemed to be giving somewhat less than their best when the General Election rolled around. Whereas the Democratic parties in their respective states rallied around both Gillum and Abrams, the consolidation of support in Maryland seemed less than total in the case of Jealous.  This was reflected in both the public surveys as well as in the campaign finance numbers.

As a popular incumbent governing at a time when the economy was perceived to be good and enjoying large leads in the polls and in fundraising, Hogan never needed to do anything that might damage his “not a racist” image.  Did this help Hogan with some Black voters? I would not be surprised if post-Election polls showed Hogan garnering 15% of the Black vote, and perhaps something closer to 20% among affluent Black voters, but I would argue that Hogan’s primary focus was on making sure that he didn’t lose support among white moderates.  And by being seen as not a racist, he removed an obstacle that helped ensure that such white voters would not take a good look at Jealous, even if they were more closely aligned with Jealous on an array of public policy matters.

Finally, I believe that Jealous’ loss had far more to do with his campaign’s lack of financial resources than his platform.  Had the Establishment lined up for Jealous, as they did for Brown, in this election cycle, he would have had the ability to project his message far more effectively across the state.  Would it have been enough to win?  Who knows.  But by Jealous not being able to convey his narrative, Hogan dominated the conversation in the closing weeks of the campaign, which undoubtedly contributed to his margin of victory.  We need to consider why that fundraising disparity existed and for Lublin to brush off the “progressives vs. the establishment” tension as “a bunch of hooey” is, quite simply, nonsense.  

In solidarity.


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