Districts White, Candidates Aren’t

Seeking Office Under History’s Eye, in Spite of Party’s Dou

NORTH AURORA, Ill.--Most of the room’s occupants looked nothing like Lauren Underwood, but no one seemed to care.

Mrs. Underwood, the Democratic congressional nominee in northern Illinois’s pivotal 14th District, flowed effortlessly from person to person at a meet-and-greet last month, confident in her belief that she, a 31-year-old Black woman, was best suited to represent a community that is overwhelmingly white.

“I learned to be a Black woman in this community,” Mrs. Underwood said. “This is my home, and the idea that I might not be a good fit is an idea I never gave a lot of consideration to.”

Kathy Birkett, a former school superintendent who came to the event to support Mrs. Underwood, said the candidate’s ideas about health care and reducing gun violence are what helped her draw support from a cross-section of voters in the district.

“When you’re top notch, you’re top notch--and I don’t think that has anything to do with color,” she said.

A decade after the election of America’s first Black president, Mrs. Underwood and several other African-American, Hispanic and minority candidates for Congress are facing a major test this fall: whether they can win in districts where white voters make up the majority of the electorate. Like Barack Obama, these contenders--most of them Democrats--often strain to avoid explicit discussions of race out of fear of alienating white voters, which stands in contrast to the uncompromising insurgent challengers that have taken hold in the post-Obama era like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York House candidate, or Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia.

Mrs. Underwood and several other minority candidates in majority-white districts say they have not encountered overt racism aimed at their bids for office. But they also said their campaigns face distinct challenges: difficulty in finding initial support, a need to combat racial stereotypes, and most importantly, a lack of trust from even members of their own party that a minority candidate can succeed in a predominantly white district.

According to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, there are 14 self-identified racial minorities out of the nearly 60 party-backed Democrats in the most ...To Read More...subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper