The close of the New Hampshire primary raised the prominence of race as a campaign tactic-just as the Democratic candidates head to South Carolina, said New York University Professor Charlton McIlwain, who noted African-Americans are expected to account for half of the votes in the Feb. 3 Democratic primary.
“During Howard Dean’s New Hampshire primary-night speech, he accused President Bush of ‘playing the race card’ by repeatedly using the term ‘quota’ when talking about last year’s Supreme Court cases on affirmative action,” said McIlwain, an assistant professor of culture and communication in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. “With South Carolina and other states with large numbers of African-American voters holding primaries in the next few weeks, voters should expect to increasingly see the race card played in campaign rhetoric.”
McIlwain and Professor Stephen Maynard Caliendo of Kansas City’s Avila University head the Project on Race in Political Advertising and are closely monitoring candidates’ usage of racial messages throughout the 2004 elections.
News from their campaign watch and information about the project can be found at RaceProject.org.
“Candidates of all races and political parties have found it useful in the past to appeal to race in persuading voters to vote for them or against their opponents,” McIlwain said. “Bush’s use of racial code words in the past is likely to figure more prominently into Dean’s and other candidates’ messages as they move to states such as South Carolina, Missouri and Michigan in the coming weeks.”
McIlwain added that the large population of blacks and other racial minorities in these states, the competitive nature of the primary election and Dean’s controversial remarks regarding the confederate flag have set the stage for the issue of race to be raised.
“Candidates are looking for a competitive edge in winning the minority base vote within the party, and each of the candidates - especially Dean - knows that issues related to race are likely to elicit an emotional response from minority groups in these states,” says McIlwain. “The question for these candidates, who all have a share of backing in the African-American community, is whether they can use such a message to their benefit in convincing voters that they can beat Bush in November.”
In addition to the presidential campaign, McIlwain and Caliendo will be monitoring a select number of congressional and senatorial campaigns involving candidates who are racial minorities.