Scores of black candidates in the Sunshine State are showing up on legislative ballots in what may be record numbers this election season.
In South Florida, a multi-ethnic mix of black candidates –from African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians to others from the Caribbean, South America, Latin America and Central America – are vying for seats in the U.S. Senate and House as well as the State House, County Halls, School Boards and City Halls.
Even on the Florida Supreme Court level, where justices are appointed, Florida voters are being asked if they want to retain four justices in office, including Justice James E.C. Perry, an African American appointed to the court by Gov. Charlie Crist in March.
National and state Republican leaders have applauded their growing slate of black candidates and foresee a record turnout of registered Republican and Tea Party voters who are predicted to make inroads in national, state and local elections. GOP voters are not shying away from Election Day, they say.
Black Republicans, says Marcos Sendon, president of the Tea Party Group, South Florida Conservative, “happen to be genuine individuals who hold true conservative values – freedom of the individual and the freedom of the entrepreneur to create and drive jobs in this economy,” Sendon said.
Democrat leaders, on the other hand, fear that their base, including the nation’s registered black Democrats, are not feeling that same sense of urgency that Conservatives have for their candidates. Part of the reason, says Steve Walker, the national African-American vote director for Organizing for America, can be attributed to the nature of midterm elections.
“There’s just not the fervent energy of a presidential campaign,” said Walker, who also is the southern region field director for Organizing for America. The organization is a project of the Democratic National Committee.
But given the attention the Republican Party has raised for its candidates and issues, the DNC is launching its largest ever media campaign to attract African Americans to the polls, Walker said.
“We’re serious about galvanizing the African-American vote,” he said.
The national media program for the 2006 midterm was $260,000. This year, the amount is $3 million, he said. And more money has been spent in Florida during the current election cycle than was spent nationally in all of 2006.
The party is raising and spending millions of dollars on get-out-the-vote efforts through media campaigns, teleconferences with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as high-level appearances on black radio. The goal, said Walker, is “to get the election on the radar screen.”
Within a two-week period, the First Lady has held a teleconference with women of color and faith; the President held a teleconference on Wednesday with Florida’s African-American leaders and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek held a tele-conversation on Thursday.
Only six African Americans – none of them from Florida – have ever served in the U.S. Senate. On Tuesday, Meek of Miami wants to change that number to seven. So would Lewis J. Armstrong, a lesser-known black senate candidate from Jacksonville.
But the “radar screen” is also picking up some black Republican candidates, even though the number of registered African-American voters in Florida stands at 58,875. By contrast, there are 1,218,787 African-American Democrats in the state and 163,867 African-American Independents.
Sendon, who formed his Tea Party group in February 2009 in Miami, said he is not surprised by Flordia’s growing number of black Republican candidates.
“That they are black is incidental,” he said. “Many African Americans truly hold conservative values. The conservative movement offers them the freedom to achieve their dreams of being individuals.”
In some instances, black Republican challengers are outspending their Democratic opponents.
Allen West, who is running against white incumbent Ron Klein for the District 22 congressional seat, raised more than $5 million by the end of September. Klein, who beat West’s previous challenge in 2008, raised slightly more than $3 million.
West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, lost by 10 points to Klein in 2008 but, according to a mid-October Sunshine State news poll, he is leading Klein 47-44 in a survey of likely voters.
For seven years, the U.S. House has not had a Republican member. West and about 30 other black GOP congressional candidates predict they will be among the conservative victors taking over the House of Representatives in November.
To help Democrats along, Obama has been hitting the campaign trail in person.. He’s made three visits to the state to hold fundraisers for candidates.
Florida, which Obama carried in the presidential race, is an important state for the party, Walker said.
“Florida has tremendous candidates,” he said, “including Kendrick Meek and Alex Sink,” the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
The senate race has 10 candidates but the three most prominent are Meek, Republican Marco Rubio and Independent Charlie Crist, who switched from Republican after Rubio beat him in the polls for the GOP nomination.
Some observers believe Cuban Americans are more eager to put Rubio, a Cuban Republican, in the U.S. Senate more than African Americans want to put an African American in that Congressional chamber. Meek has been trailing in the three-way poll, which has prompted some Democrats to suggest that Meek step out of the race to help avert a Republican takeover of the Senate.
Others say Crist is a politician they could live with in the Senate. In 2007, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP honored him for his efforts in bridging the gap among all communities. That same year, when Crist met with the legislative black caucus, state Rep. Terry Fields of Jacksonville wrapped his arm around Crist's shoulder and proclaimed him “the first black governor of the state of Florida.”
Some blacks may be torn to vote for a black candidate of another party, rather than supporting a white candidate of their own party. In Florida, Allen, a black Republican is challenging Klein, a white Democrat. Jennifer Carroll, a black Republican is running for lieutenant governor, while Rod Smith, her
opponent, is white.
Three blacks have sought to be lieutenant governor: Republican David Montgomery in 1876, Democratic state Rep. Mary Singleton in 1978, and former Democratic state Sen.Darryl Jones of Miami in 2006. So when Carroll, the Trinidad-born Tallahassee-area businesswoman, was tapped by Rick Scott for the No. 2 spot on the GOP gubernatorial ticket, she knew she was not making history for being the first black to run. But on Tuesday she wants to be the first black to win.
Walker of Organizing for America says that black voters have to be savvy.
“I think people understand who their friends and allies are,” he said. “It’s about what the person can deliver. They know that Alex Sink will be a friend and ally of President Obama. Look at the work of Sink and Meek.”
Photo: Jennifer Carroll, left, and Kendrick Meek.