Tea party fuels rise of Herman Cain. So how can it be racist?
Herman Cain surged to the top of the GOP presidential field in one poll on Thursday, buttressed by strong tea party support. Tea party backers say that shows the movement isn't racist.
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But to many tea party activists, those charges come off sounding desperate and offensive. Moreover, they say, the idea that Cain is a "puppet" ignores how tea party conservatives helped elect an Indian-American, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; a Hispanic, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida; and Rep. Tim Scott, a conservative African-American from a largely white district in South Carolina.Skip to next paragraph
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Some analysts suggest Cain, if he gets the nomination, won't be able to peel off more than 15 percent of the black voting bloc. In addition, some conservative whites may ultimately be turned off by a black candidate.
Indeed, there is evidence that some tea partyers, by a higher margin than most Republicans, view blacks more negatively than they do whites.
A 2010 survey by the University of Washington has been cited as the strongest indication of a racial dimension to the tea party. In that survey, 73 percent of "strong" supporters of the tea party said blacks would be as well off as whites if they just tried harder, compared to 33 percent of strong tea party opponents who thought the same thing. "Support for the tea party makes one 25 percent more likely to be racially resentful than those who don't support the tea party," Christopher Parker, the author of the survey, concluded.
But the depth and consequence of that resentment is clearly being tested by Cain.
He is presenting the political right with a unique opportunity, says Professor Gillespie at Emory. "The best thing that Herman Cain and other black Republicans can do is to push the Republican Party to be more cognizant of how they frame issues" in order to appeal to conservative blacks who, as of now, don't trust the GOP.
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