Cheri Beasley is well aware of the challenges faced by black women running for office across the state.
“I know what it’s like to hear from skeptics and those who are skeptical that people of color can’t win, because that’s not what we’re used to or who we envision in positions of power. “, she said in an interview with NBC. News.
The former judge has made two successful runs for statewide judicial office, and this year she is running for the open North Carolina Senate seat, joining a cohort of black women seeking entry. in history.
Black women’s representation has steadily increased in Congress and state legislatures, but they still struggle to win statewide races. No black woman has ever been elected governor, and no black woman sits in the US Senate after Kamala Harris left her seat to become vice president.
That could change this year.
Beasley is one of three black women — all Democrats — who emerged as early frontrunners in the statewide primaries, including Stacey Abrams, who is making another bid for Georgia governor, and US Representative Val Demings, who is challenging Senator Marco. Rubio, R-Fla.
Five Black women are running for Governor, just shy of the record six in 2018. Between 16 and 20 Black women are currently, or considered potential, Senate candidates, which would break the record of 13 Black women Senate candidates established in 2020, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
They include Democratic Governor hopefuls Danielle Allen of Massachusetts, Deidre DeJear of Iowa and Mia McLeod of South Carolina. Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette is also up for the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania.
Abrams, Demings and Beasley are among the few already favored to win their primaries. That’s especially rare given where they run, said Kelly Dittmar, research director at Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics.
“When we talk about where black women have succeeded in statewide pageants, that’s outside of the South,” she said.
EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler noted that she didn’t see many examples of black political incumbents, especially black women, while growing up in Mississippi.
“There was no Stacey Abrams. There was no Val Demings,” said Butler, the first black chair of the Democratic-leaning group that backs women candidates who support abortion rights.
Persistent racism, sexism and the perception that black women (who typically run as Democratic candidates) cannot win Republican states have in the past hampered statewide candidates in primaries.
Beasley, Abrams and Demings have already overcome some traditional hurdles, including difficulties raising funds and gaining support from party leaders.
Abrams has yet to file a fundraising report since launching her campaign in December, but she raised $27.6 million during her unsuccessful 2018 run for governor. Demings raised $13.5 million. million as of September 30. Beasley announced on Tuesday that she had raised $2.1 million. in the last three months of 2021, bringing its total to nearly $4.9 million.
All three tapped into the energy of grassroots Democratic donors. Their early success also took years to prepare.
“These are not newcomers,” said Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights for America PAC, which supports black female candidates. She said their candidacies are the culmination of years of efforts to support black women running for state and local office so they can eventually run statewide.
Abrams served as the Democratic leader of the State House before running for governor in 2018. Demings, Orlando’s first black female police chief, gained a national profile as House manager during of President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. And Beasley was the first black woman to serve as chief justice of the state Supreme Court, losing her race for a full term as chief justice by just 401 votes in 2020.
“This race was about building on the relationships we’ve had for a long time across the state,” Beasley said.
Noting Beasley’s steady lead in the polls, State Sen. Jeff Jackson dropped out of the Democratic primary last month, backing her as his party’s “presumptive candidate.” Beasley said “having clarity” in the race allows Democrats to fully focus on the general election.
Despite her personal success in the elementary field, she said the challenges facing black candidates persist.
“There really are financial and political barriers that prevent people from running,” Beasley said, later adding, “We would have more than zero African American women in the Senate if there were no challenges to each other. to present”.
Along with fundraising challenges, Democratic leaders don’t always think about recruiting black women, advocates said.
“There’s a certain order of composition of who can show up across the state and often black women’s names don’t appear in that composition,” said Stefanie Brown James, co-founder and executive director of Collective PAC.
Brown James said early support from groups like hers is critical to uplifting black women candidates.
Abrams, Demings and Beasley still face competitive runs in November. Trump won Florida and North Carolina in 2020, while Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia. But there is hope that 2022 will be a landmark year, despite the political headwinds Democrats face.
“I wouldn’t have taken this job if I hadn’t been optimistic that we could continue to make a difference,” said Butler of EMILY’s List.
“I am optimistic that this will be an incredibly important year for black women,” she added.