Top Spots Still Elusive For Black Candidates

Meek's campaign manager, Abe Dyk, sees a bright side to the primary challenge, which has drawn attention to the Democratic race after months in which the news was focused on the battle between Republicans Crist and Rubio. The contested primary means a victory would give Meek "a bounce" and unite Democrats, he says.

"The Democratic base is all we need to win the general," Dyk says of the three-way race, predicting that the party's voters are "going to come home."

For Meek, defeating Greene in August may prove to be easier than convincing Democrats to support him rather than Crist in November. In the Quinnipiac poll, Crist led Rubio 37%-33% with Meek trailing at 17%. The survey of 1,133 Florida voters has a margin of error of +/–2.9 percentage points.

Among Democratic voters, 44% backed Meek, 37% Crist. Seven in 10 voters, including six in 10 Democrats, said they hadn't heard enough about Meek to have an opinion of him.

"I don't think Kendrick Meek is well known in this part of the state," says Karen Doddridge, 67, a high school teacher from Winter Park who is attending the Orange County Democratic Dinner in Orlando that night. She counts herself as a supporter, but she likes Crist, too, especially since he moved in April to block legislation that would have linked teacher pay to student performance.

"He vetoed Senate Bill 6, and there are a lot of teachers who are very appreciative," she says. The politically potent Florida teachers' union last month endorsed both Meek and Crist.

Oversized Expectations

Why are there so few black nominees for top jobs this year?

The overwhelming majority of African-American candidates are Democrats, and some problems they're encountering are familiar to Democratic contenders generally. Republicans hope a widespread sense that the nation is headed in the wrong direction could fuel an electoral tidal wave that might even cost Democrats control of Congress.

David Bositis, a veteran scholar of black politics at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says a lack of a deep bench of African-American officeholders in lower offices also has been a factor in the paucity of nominees for prized offices this year.

And he and others say it was never realistic to expect that Obama's election, while a milestone, instantly would transform the nation's racial politics. Expectations were oversized when he won: Seven in 10 Americans predicted in a USA TODAY survey that his election would make race relations better.

"It was easy to overstate the significance of the Obama victory," says Hutchings, who studies race and elections. "A lot of people wanted to read into it that race didn't matter any more, or that race is less important than it was in the past. Even that more measured assessment was probably overstated."

Obama's election inspired some African Americans to get into politics or seek higher office, Hutchings says, but it also reinforced the perception by some that the Democratic Party reflects the interests and priorities of racial minorities — making it harder for Democratic candidates, especially black ones, to draw white voters and forge multiracial coalitions needed to win statewide contests.

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