HomeLearning CenterDemocrats Aim for a Breakthrough for Black Women in the Senate

Democrats Aim for a Breakthrough for Black Women in the Senate

Originally published by Jonathan Weisman for The New York Times

Carol Moseley Braun, one of only two Black women to have been elected to the Senate in U.S. history, was in Paris on Wednesday when she was informed that another Black woman, Angela Alsobrooks, had won the Democratic nomination for an open Senate seat in Maryland.

“Praise the Lord,” she said with relief and surprise. “That’s wonderful.”

With Ms. Alsobrooks’s come-from-behind victory in Tuesday’s primary, voters in November will most likely have the chance to double the number of Black women ever elected to the Senate. Another Democrat, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, is the odds-on favorite to win her party’s nomination in September for an open Senate seat in heavily Democratic Delaware. If both win in November, for the first time, two Black women will serve in Congress’s upper chamber at the same time.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Ms. Moseley Braun, who became the first Black female senator when she was elected from Illinois in 1992 and now serves as chairwoman of the United States African Development Foundation. The second, from California, is now the vice president, Kamala Harris. A third, Laphonza Butler, Democrat of California, was appointed to fill a vacant seat, but is not running for re-election.

For years, the national Democratic Party has faced criticism that it has declined to back Black women to the hilt, either in primaries or general elections, when they have run for statewide offices. Representative Barbara Lee, a seasoned political veteran and an antiwar icon, received barely a glance from the party apparatus this year when she ran for an open Senate seat in California.

Cheri Beasley, a former state chief justice in North Carolina, was given only a trickle of party money in her campaign for Senate in 2022. Stacey Abrams often grumbled about the level of support she garnered for her two runs for governor of Georgia.

In Ms. Alsobrooks’s own Maryland, the heated Senate Democratic primary in 2016 between Chris Van Hollen, a white man, and Donna Edwards, a Black woman, both representatives at the time, went to Mr. Van Hollen after almost all of the state’s Democratic elite lined up behind him.

Out of 75 Black women who have run or are running for the Senate since 2010, 10 have secured major-party nominations, including Ms. Alsobrooks and Valerie McCray, who is running a long-shot campaign in Indiana this fall. No Black woman has ever been elected governor, and out of the 28 who have run for the position since 2010, only four have become major-party nominees, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. All of the nominees have been Democrats.

Ms. Lee said that Black women enter statewide races with headwinds from party officials who doubt they can raise enough money and polling that gives their candidacies short shrift. They then face donors who point to the polling and sit on their wallets.

“It becomes a vicious cycle,” she said.

Ms. Alsobrooks, the county executive of Prince George’s County, a diverse suburb of Washington, D.C., has broken the mold. While her primary opponent, Representative David Trone, could have tapped a vast fortune from his Total Wine & More empire, Ms. Alsobrooks pulled in the Democratic elite, including national figures like Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, as well as most of Maryland’s power structure, including the governor, Wes Moore, and the senator she hopes to serve with, Mr. Van Hollen.

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“Where we are is a realization of how valuable Black women — and women in general — are to the Democratic Party,” said Yvette Lewis, who stepped down as Maryland’s Democratic Party chairwoman to advise the Alsobrooks campaign. “We are the backbone of the party. We are the consistent voters.”

With its large urban and suburban populations in and around Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Maryland is racially diverse — and its Black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. The Pew Research Center said 43 percent of Democratic voters and 7 percent of Republican voters in the state were Black.

Ms. Alsobrooks still has a race ahead of her, against Larry Hogan, a popular former governor of Maryland who hopes to be an anti-Trump voice in the Senate Republican Conference. Republicans on Wednesday said they would not shy away from attacking Ms. Alsobrooks’s record in Prince George’s County, which has long struggled with crime and budgetary and management issues. They have faith that Mr. Hogan — whose victory in the governor’s race of 2014 still stands as a stunning surprise — maintains his pull in the Black community, especially with Black men.

Senator Steve Daines of Montana, the chairman of National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Ms. Alsobrooks had “underfunded law enforcement” during her tenure, while Mr. Hogan had “delivered results for Maryland by reaching across the aisle.”

In choosing Ms. Alsobrooks, Maryland Democratic voters turned away a self-funder, Mr. Trone, who had already spent more than $60 million of his own money in the race. The Democratic nominee will have to raise money quickly.

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