Racial animus moves to the forefront in midterm battle

Racial animus moves to the forefront in midterm battle
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Race has moved to the forefront of this year’s midterm elections to an extent unprecedented in recent decades, as Republican candidates appeal to worried white voters and Democrats warn of rampant disenfranchisement of minorities in states across the country.

American politics have been riven for decades by an undercurrent of racism, played up by candidates who seek to stoke tension and fear among white voters.


The difference today is that covert dog whistles are being replaced by more overt overtures to racial animus.

In California, Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan HunterIssa defeats Campa-Najjar in California House race DOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program MORE (R) has accused Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Mexican and Palestinian descent, of “working to infiltrate” Congress. Campa-Najjar previously worked on former President Obama’s reelection race from the White House.

In Florida, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Group of Florida mayors calls on DeSantis to issue mask mandate DeSantis promises to keep Florida open despite recent coronavirus case surge MORE has said his opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, would “monkey” up the state’s economy if he is elected. Gillum is black.

In New Jersey, a state Republican Party mailer uses an Asian-looking font to suggest that Andy Kim, an Asian-American Democratic candidate for Congress, is “real fishy.”

Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, says such appeals are dangerous and significant.

“For a long time, the conventional wisdom about how you handled racial appeals was that you did so implicitly. You resorted to dog whistles,” said Weiler, the co-author of the book “Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide.”

Now, he said, candidates “have come to believe that there’s not the same political blowback from using these kinds of appeals that they might have experienced even five or 10 years ago.”

Twelve years ago, then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) came under fire for referring to an Indian-American volunteer for his opponent as a “Macaca,” which some saw as an ethnic slur. Allen called the young man to personally apologize.

Today, no such apologies are forthcoming.

Republicans and Democrats alike say the changing tone of the campaigns can be linked to President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE.

Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), pointed to Trump’s description of Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations as “shithole countries” and his statement early in the 2016 campaign that Mexico was sending murderers and rapists to the United States.

“Just behind the curtain lurks an ugly racist monster that tries to come out. And it looks for that moment to come out,” he said. “For the last 50 years, we’ve been making progress to checking that ugly monster and keeping him at bay, but in this environment where African-Americans come from shithole countries and Mexicans are rapists and murderers and the only good people seemingly come from Norway, it doesn’t take a whole lot for me to figure out where you’re coming from.”

Steele, who is black, faced racially tinged and racist attacks himself when he ran for lieutenant governor and for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland. The president of the Maryland state Senate, a Democrat, called Steele “the personification of an Uncle Tom” when Republicans picked Steele to be the party’s lieutenant governor nominee in 2001.

Some Republicans have expressed public disapproval of racial appeals made on their behalf.

This week, a group calling itself Black Americans for the President’s Agenda began running radio advertisements in Arkansas and Missouri in which two black women warn that Democrats “will be lynching black folks again.”

Rep. French HillJames (French) French HillDemocrats projected to retain House majority Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats MORE (R), for whom the advertisement is running in Arkansas, said it was “outrageous.”

“I do not support that message, and there is no place in Arkansas for this nonsense,” Hill wrote on Twitter.

The man behind those advertisements, former North Carolina congressional candidate Vernon Robinson, said they were meant “to highlight the heinous crimes of the Democratic Party.”

“From 1880 to 1970, every black person who was lynched in the South was lynched by a white Democrat. That’s not a racial appeal, it’s an historical fact,” Robinson said in an interview. “The Democrats play the race card all the time and nobody calls them on it.”

But Democrats see a pattern.

“These are blatant attempts to create racial fearmongering in an effort to mobilize a conservative white base,” said Ed Espinoza, a Texas-based Democratic strategist. “In the past, both parties tried to appeal to all segments of the population, but what you’re seeing now is Republicans doubling down on getting out the white vote by creating polarization among the races.”

Hunter has continued to run advertisements painting his opponent, Campa-Najjar, as “a risk we can’t ignore.” Campa-Najjar is the grandson of a Palestinian terrorist who died before the California native was born.

In New York, a group backing Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Kyle Van De Water wins New York GOP primary to challenge Rep. Antonio Delgado The most expensive congressional races of the last decade MORE (R) labels Democrat Antonio Delgado a “big-city rapper.” It ends with a photo of Delgado in shadow, wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

DeSantis left it to a spokesman to clarify his remarks about how Gillum would “monkey this up.”

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” spokesman Stephen Lawson told Fox News. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”

Steele, the former RNC chairman, said DeSantis’s comments were out of touch.

“If you are talking about and referring to an African-American and you use the word monkey next to their name and their personage in a sentence, you have to realize that you’re going to have a problem,” Steele said. “Who the hell runs around talking about monkeying up? No one says that.”

John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former spokesman for the RNC during the Reagan administration, said subtle dog whistles were once the domain of shadowy outside groups.

The famous 1988 advertisement against Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis that invoked paroled prisoner Willie Horton was run by an outside group, not by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush’s campaign.

“What’s unusual is the extent to which candidates and party organizations are doing it directly, in the open and on the internet for the world to see,” Pitney said. “Trump has been getting away with it for years, so why not grab a sheet and join the bandwagon?”