Congress Will Have The Most Black Republicans In Over A Century

Congress Will Have The Most Black Republicans In Over A Century

When the new Congress comes into session in January, there will be more Black Republicans serving together on Capitol Hill than at any point since 1877.

The number? Five.3

For years, Republicans have struggled to recruit and elect Black candidates. But heading into this year’s primary election season, national Republicans boasted that more than 80 Black Republicans — a historical feat for the party — were running on the GOP ticket. After the primaries, only 31 Black Republicans actually made it onto the ballot, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of primary race winners. Almost all of those candidates lost.

This result isn’t a huge surprise. In July, I took a look at the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 election forecast and predicted that Republicans Wesley Hunt of Texas and John James of Michigan were the most likely congressional hopefuls to join current Reps. Burgess Owens of Utah and Byron Donalds of Florida in Washington come next year. Georgia is, once again, headed to a runoff election and while it’s too soon to know whether Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock or Republican Herschel Walker will win, there will be two Black Republicans4 serving in the upper chamber concurrently if Walker is successful — the highest number ever.

It’s notable, too, that a handful of Black Republicans were in tough races that took multiple days to call. Tamika Hamilton, who ran against Democrat Rep. Ami Bera in California’s 6th District, is projected to lose by just 12 percentage points, according to ABC News.5 Meanwhile, in Connecticut’s 5th District, Republican George Logan lost to Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes by roughly 2,000 votes. A win for Logan would have been an upset, as our Deluxe forecast, frozen early on Nov. 8, only gave the challenger a 39-in-100 chance of winning. Hamilton, meanwhile, only had a 1-in-100 chance of victory.

In fact, our forecast predicted uphill battles for the vast majority of the Black Republicans running this year: Out of all primary winners, only two — Hunt and James — had a more than 50-in-100 chance of winning. Of course, Black Republicans might always have trouble seeking acceptance within a party that has historically downplayed racism and has leaned on white grievance politics as a way to attract voters. But many of these candidates simply had tough races in reliably blue districts and no real shot at winning, despite the party trumpeting how many nominees they had. That wasn’t the case for the two who won, however. Hunt, for his part, ran in a newly drawn Houston-based district that had a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean6 of R+27. Our forecast also gave him a more than 99-in-100 chance of beating Democrat Duncan Klussmann. James, for his part, was also the favored candidate in Michigan’s open 10th District — which has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of R+6 — against Democrat Carl Marlinga.

Most Black Republicans lost in the 2022 midterms

Black Republican candidates in 2022 midterm races, the competitiveness of their races in the final FiveThirtyEight pre-election forecast, and results of their election

Candidate Race Preelection Race Rating Result
Byron Donalds Florida 19 Solid R ✓ Won
John James Michigan 10 Likely R ✓ Won
Tim Scott South Carolina Senate Solid R ✓ Won
Wesley Hunt Texas 38 Solid R ✓ Won
Burgess Owens Utah 4 Solid R ✓ Won
Herschel Junior Walker Georgia Senate Lean R ? Runoff
Tamika Hamilton California 6 Solid D ✗ Lost
Brian E. Hawkins California 25 Solid D ✗ Lost
Joe E. Collins III California 36 Solid D ✗ Lost
Aja Smith California 39 Solid D ✗ Lost
George Logan Connecticut 5 Lean D ✗ Lost
Calvin B. Wimbish Florida 10 Solid D ✗ Lost
Drew Montez Clark Florida 20 Solid D ✗ Lost
Carla Spalding Florida 25 Solid D ✗ Lost
Jennifer-Ruth Green Indiana 1 Likely D ✗ Lost
Donnie Dionicio Palmer Massachusetts 7 Solid D ✗ Lost
John Gibbs Michigan 3 Toss-Up ✗ Lost
Martell D. Bivings Michigan 13 Solid D ✗ Lost
Cicely Davis Minnesota 5 Solid D ✗ Lost
Andrew Jones Missouri 1 Solid D ✗ Lost
Billy Prempeh New Jersey 9 Solid D ✗ Lost
Darius Mayfield New Jersey 12 Solid D ✗ Lost
La'Ron D. Singletary New York 25 Solid D ✗ Lost
Joe Pinion New York Senate Solid D ✗ Lost
Eric J. Brewer Ohio 11 Solid D ✗ Lost
Allen R. Waters Rhode Island 1 Solid D ✗ Lost
Duke Buckner South Carolina 6 Solid D ✗ Lost
Charlotte Bergmann Tennessee 9 Solid D ✗ Lost
Terry T. Namkung Virginia 3 Solid D ✗ Lost
Leon Benjamin Sr. Virginia 4 Solid D ✗ Lost
Tim Rogers Wisconsin 4 Solid D ✗ Lost

Source: ABC News

Even with slightly more Black GOP members in Congress, though, the Republican Party still has a ways to go before they catch up with Democrats in terms of representation (there are nearly 60 Black Democrats in the House currently). That’s in part because Black Republicans often face challenges in proving their conservative bona fides to white voters and Black voters still remain heavily Democratic, though we don’t have enough evidence beyond imperfect exit polling data to say for certain yet how much either group shifted in this year’s election.

The fact that electing five or six Black Republicans to Congress is a feat worth discussing is reflective of how the party continues to struggle with Black voters. After all, there wasn’t always a dearth of Black Republicans in Congress. In fact, seven Black politicians served in the U.S. House together during the 43rd (1873-75) and 44th (1875-77) congresses, thanks to the newfound political power of emancipated men in the South, who got the right to vote in 1870.7 That changed, though, following the end of the Reconstruction era, and beginning in 1877, Black representation significantly declined. In fact, throughout the 20th century, many congresses had no Black Republicans at all. That trend didn’t begin to reverse until 1995, when two Black Republicans served together in the House again — in part, due to the GOP’s pursuit of disillusioned Black voters at the time. But the House only saw between one to two Black members in the lower chamber at once from then until now.

But the Republican Party has a lot more trouble appealing to Black voters now than it did in the 1800s. Back then, Black people were overwhelmingly aligned with the GOP because it was known as the party of President Abraham Lincoln, who was credited with fighting to end slavery. In fact, the current dynamics of the two major parties didn’t really start to take shape until around the 1930s, when programs intended to help communities of color — such as those in Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal — prompted some Black voters to switch their party loyalty to Democrats. 

Overtures by the Republican Party to court Black voters and candidates have increased particularly in states and districts where Black voters could decide election outcomes. Some experts told me previously that the GOP’s decision to back Walker in Georgia, despite his flaws as a candidate, is a sign that the party is trying to find ways to appeal to more Black voters. Even before Tuesday’s election, a number of Republican-affiliated groups spent gobs of money attempting to buoy Black Republicans running in competitive primary races, like former Army captain Jeremy Hunt of Georgia, who ultimately lost his June primary. Many other candidates, however, were substantially outraised by their opponents — especially those who were running in solidly blue seats. Take South Carolina Republican Duke Buckner, who challenged House Majority Whip James Clyburn in the state’s 6th District and raised only a tiny fraction of his opponent’s war chest, or New Jersey Republican Darius Mayfield, who challenged Rep. Bonnie Coleman in the 12th District and was similarly dramatically outraised.

So it’s too soon to say whether efforts to recruit and elect more Black candidates are really paying off for the GOP. Sure, Walker is headed into what’s expected to be a competitive runoff election in Georgia and he held a slight 64-in-100 chance edge in our final forecast, but current returns show that he earned fewer votes than Warnock during the general election and is running considerably behind Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. And since the vast majority of Black GOP general election candidates (83 percent) lost to their Democratic opponent in the House and Senate midterm races this cycle — not including Walker — it’s hard to know if electing Black candidates will continue to be a priority for Republicans going forward.

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