Two Democrats Challenge Senator John Kennedy, but Why Does the Media Prefer the White One?

Tom Williams/Pool via AP

In 2018, two black Democrats came close to winning the gubernatorial races. Stacey Abrams was running for Governor of Georgia and Andrew Gillum was running for Governor of Florida. At the same time, Beto O’Rourke was running against Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate in Texas.

Abrams and Gillum were black candidates in states the Democrats have the potential to win. O’Rourke was a white candidate running a longshot race in a deep red state. Despite this, the media gave an incredible amount of coverage to O’Rourke, so much so that he was able to pull in a lot of donations from across the country and came very close to winning.

But Abrams and Gillum received but a fraction of that coverage and it could be argued that, had they gotten the level of coverage O’Rourke got, they could have won their states. But the media picked a favorite – the Kennedy-esque white guy from Texas.

Abrams and Gillum lost, and neither has quite recovered from it. Gillum got in trouble in a hotel in Florida and Abrams unsuccessfully tried to run for Biden’s Vice President. The former will probably never have a job in politics again, but the media is trying to rehabilitate the latter in her second bid for governor.

A large reason for Abrams’ sudden rise in the media is white guilt. These major news outlets recognize that they spent all their time on a lost cause in O’Rourke when Georgia and Florida were much more winnable. They are trying to correct that now.

In Louisiana, a similar situation is unfolding.

U.S. Senator John Kennedy is extremely popular in the state. He can drop one of his famous one-liner soundbites and raise money at the drop of a hat. There is very little that can threaten his seat, especially in 2022 when Democrats are unpopular and expected to do poorly across the board.

But, that isn’t stopping two Democrats from trying.

The first is Gary Chambers, a black Democrat who is openly progressive and has supported Bernie Sanders and seeks to represent the “working class.” He ran for Congress recently and came in a close third, almost making the runoff. He has more campaign experience and is very charismatic.

The second is Luke Mixon, a white Democrat from central Louisiana who is being billed by some in Louisiana as a “moderate” or “centrist” Democrat in the same way Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards billed himself in 2015 when he ran and won. Mixon is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and served as a fighter pilot.

Mixon’s candidacy got a glowing announcement from The Advocate in Baton Rogue. You’d be hard-pressed to find coverage of Chambers in The Advocate or its sister publication The Times-Picayune that isn’t coupled with coverage of Mixon.

In fact, the biggest names in Democratic politics in the state of Louisiana – like the current governor – all have former aides helping out Mixon’s campaign. They are pushing for his success. Chambers is receiving little support from the state’s Democratic Party.

Of the state’s 1,208,461 registered Democrats in Louisiana, 723,297 of them (roughly 60 percent) are African-American voters. But their party can never seem to get behind a black candidate to unite them. The white trial lawyers pick a clean-cut white guy and tell the black voters to go along with him or her.

Most of the time, it works for them. But there is a lot of whispering behind the scenes that the state’s black elected officials want better seats at the party’s table. They are tired of having to answer to white state leaders in their party. The black vote has the potential to unseat them, but they have yet to get a candidate who can win and who poses a significant enough challenge to the party’s leadership.

As a progressive, Chambers won’t fit the bill on electability for most of the state. It’s far too conservative. But there are pockets around the state he can do very well in during a statewide race. More importantly, there are parts of the state he can absolutely convince black voters to stay home and screw someone like Mixon out of the running.

Mixon’s position is an untenable one. In the very hypothetical event he were to win, he is going to have to be a real, Manchin-like centrist in the U.S. Senate, which means he’ll never progress in the national Democratic Party because they’ll openly at war with guys like Manchin. If he goes full progressive, that means he’ll be voted out almost immediately when re-election rolls around.

But someone like Chambers will also struggle because he will be a progressive, Raphael Warnock type of Democrat. That can win at least once in Georgia, but will be harder and harder to maintain over the course of a few election cycles if the Democratic Party can’t get its act together. But far left progressive politics play even less in Louisiana than they do in Georgia, and Chambers is likely to not get anywhere in a Senate race.

The problem, though, is not the Senate race of 2022. It’s the gubernatorial race of 2023. Edwards needs a successor. He won’t pick Chambers, because he thinks (probably rightly) that his politics can’t win. But his people have found a guy like Mixon who can position himself the same way Edwards did in 2015 and make a solid run as Edwards’ successor.

Media outlets in the state are going to buy into that hook, line, and sinker. They will push Mixon now in the hopes that he builds up a good ground game so that, next year, he can challenge whatever the Republicans put forward.

However, you’re leaving almost 750,000 black Democrats with very little true representation, because the same white trial lawyers that wanted Edwards now want Mixon. Edwards has on several occasions strong-armed the black caucus in the state legislature into going his way, despite their reservations. I’m not sure how much longer that will be the case when the demographics pretty clearly show they can get their way if they get their voters out.

And in a time when Democrats aren’t popular and voters will swing more toward Republicans, Democrats will need all the votes they can get, and they’ll need guys like Chambers and the black legislative caucus on their side. They’ll have to cave, despite theirs and the media’s best efforts.