- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2010

CHICAGO | That historically all-white club known as the U.S. Senate is likely to lose what little diversity it has after November’s elections.

Two white men will be competing for President Obama’s former Senate seat from Illinois, now held by Roland W. Burris, the chamber’s lone black member. Appointed by a scandal-tainted governor, Mr. Burris won’t be seeking a full term.

In contests in Florida, Texas and North Carolina, black candidates face daunting uphill battles to join the august body. They are having difficulties raising cash and building name recognition against better-known, better-financed rivals.

Blacks constitute 12.2 percent of the nation’s population, but not in the 100-member Senate. Come next year, the total number could be zero.

“It certainly is not a desirable state of affairs,” said David Bositis, a senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Mr. Bositis noted that blacks don’t make up the majority population in any state. In states with large black populations, as in the South, racial divisions make election difficult, he said.

Florida, for example, is more likely to produce the next Hispanic senator in November than it is to elect the next black senator.

Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is locked in a close race with Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican Senate nomination and the chance to succeed Cuban-born Mel Martinez, a Republican who left the Senate before his term ended. Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, who was elected in 2006, is the Senate’s only Hispanic member and is one of six Hispanics elected since the 1920s.

Rep. Kendrick Meek, one of 41 blacks in the House, is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in Florida, but polls show him trailing both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Crist in the general election.

In Texas, Republican Michael Williams is weighing a run for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat. Mrs. Hutchison is resigning her seat to challenge fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Williams is a member of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil and gas industries in the state.

In North Carolina, Chapel Hill lawyer Kenneth Lewis, a former state fundraiser for President Obama, is one of three leading Democrats seeking to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr. Another black Democrat, Nathaniel Cooper, has raised just $1,600 to compete in the May 4 Democratic primary.

In Georgia, former Rockdale County Chief of Staff R.J. Hadley, a first-time candidate, hopes to take on Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican, but has not raised the minimum $5,000 filing fee.

Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University political science and law professor, said that party leaders need to be committed to a diversified legislative body and that qualified black candidates with money must step up to seek office.

“One of the reasons why it’s difficult for minorities, especially blacks, to win statewide is the cost of campaigns,” she said. “It takes millions of dollars to run a Senate campaign.”

On Tuesday, neither of the two black challengers in the Senate primary in Illinois — Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson, a Democrat, and little-known former suburban Chicago Alderman John Arrington, a Republican, —could compete against the better-funded and better-known candidates who captured the major-party nominations.

Five-term Rep. Mark Steven Kirk won the Republican nomination, and Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias claimed the Democratic nod. Both men are white.

Illinois has sent three of the nation’s four black senators to Washington in modern times.

The first black senator in the 20th century was Edward W. Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican who served from 1967 until 1979. The first to hold the seat from Illinois was Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat who won it in 1992. She lost her seat six years later to Republican Peter Fitzgerald, who is white and didn’t seek a second term. Mr. Obama captured the seat in 2004 by trouncing another black candidate, conservative Republican Alan Keyes. Mr. Obama relinquished the seat when he was elected president, and it was filled by Mr. Burris.

Mr. Burris was appointed by then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich after the Democratic governor was arrested on charges of trying to sell Mr. Obama’s seat. Mr. Burris won the battle to be seated, despite resistance from Senate Democratic leaders, in part because of strong support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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