Prize-winning author Toni Morrison famously joked that President Clinton’s style and ability to deliver for Black people made him the first Black president.
By Morrison’s logic, Joe Biden is the third Black president — with President Obama as the second.
President Biden’s vice president is a Black woman and he put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.
And as the midterms approach, Biden’s work to reduce student debt and lower drug prices are big wins for Black Americans, especially given the racial wealth gap.
But Biden’s most potentially enduring political victory for Black people is taking shape in this year’s midterms.
A record number of Black candidates are in position to win U.S. Senate races.
Here are four states where Black Senate candidates are playing a key role in Biden’s effort to prevent the GOP taking majority control of the Senate:
- Florida, where Rep. Val Demings (D) is taking on GOP incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio.
- Georgia, where incumbent Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black senator, is facing a Black Republican, Herschel Walker.
- North Carolina, with former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley (D) facing Republican Rep. Ted Budd.
- Wisconsin, with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) running to unseat Sen. Ron Johnson (R).
As we go into these races, keep in mind that never have more than three Black people been among the nation’s 100 senators.
Only 11 Black people have ever served in the U.S. Senate. The prospect of six together would be history.
If the three first-time candidates win and Warnock is reelected, they will double the number of Black people currently in the Senate. Right now, Warnock is joined by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
But in the possible post-midterms scenario, five of the six would be Democrats serving under Biden, a president with 68 percent approval among Black voters in an August NBC poll. That would be a historic step forward. Black priorities would be better represented than ever before at the highest levels of the national government.
Going into the final campaign stretch before the midterms, the Georgia race, featuring two Black candidates, is getting the most attention.
But to my eye the most fascinating race is in Florida.
Demings, a Black woman and former police chief, is challenging Rubio, a Latino who was once thought of as a future president.
Several polls show Rubio up by a modest amount. But Demings has the potential to grow her support, in part because many voters across the state don’t know her yet. She has raised more money than Rubio, giving her the ability to launch a strong TV campaign and raise her profile.
One big surprise is that Demings holds the lead among independent voters.
North Carolina offers another surprising opportunity.
Beasley is close to tied in her race against Budd, according to the FiveThirtyEight average of recent polls in the state.
The race in Georgia is also close.
An average of polls shows Warnock in the lead, but it is within the margin of error.
About one-third of eligible voters in Georgia are Black. A recent poll by SurveyUSA for Atlanta TV station WXIA found 85 percent of Black voters in the state back Warnock. Only 5 percent favor Walker, a former football star with no political background.
Warnock won the seat in an early 2021 runoff election by two percentage points. In November 2020, Biden won the state by less than a percentage point. Trump then pressured Georgia officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat.
In Wisconsin, Barnes holds the lead over Johnson. But it is a close race with an August Fox News poll giving Barnes a 50 percent to 46 percent lead.
A Marquette University Law School poll had Barnes up on Johnson by 7 percentage points, 51-44, with a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
But “regardless of the specificity of those numbers,” University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee emeritus professor Mordecai Lee told Wisconsin Public Radio, “we should all just agree this is an even race.”
The bottom line is that there is a real chance for all four of the Black Senate candidates to win and make history.
But they are also dependent on strong turnout among Black voters to overcome Republicans, who have lots of money and fervent support from conservative media.
Biden’s push to cut student debt and lower prescription drug prices is likely to raise Black voter enthusiasm this fall.
Increased turnout among young Black voters, a cohort with a tendency not to vote in midterms, is going to be a factor. They have a reason to vote with Biden’s student loan relief plan.
When Biden won the 2020 presidential race, he thanked Black voters who, he told the nation, “stood up again for me.”
“They always have my back, and I’ll have yours,” Biden said in his victory speech.
Looks like he was serious.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.