The Quest for the Multiracial Mandate: African American Candidates, White Voters, and Campaign Strategies in State Legislative Elections

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2004-04-26

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Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the number of African American elected officials at all levels of government has increased significantly. These candidates have traditionally been successful in districts where African Americans constitute a majority of the population. However, in recent years, African American candidates have been successful in racial diverse and majority-white districts. Given these victories, some scholars suggest that the saliency of candidate race has decreased in American campaigns and elections.

While several scholars have researched the impact of race on elections, most attention to this subject has been devoted to congressional elections. As a result, we have little understanding of how race affects state legislative elections. Thus, this dissertation attempts to fill this gap by examining how candidate race, white voting, and campaign strategies impact the campaigns of African American state legislative candidates. White voters' dispositions toward race continue to place strategic imperatives on African American candidates (Reeves, 1997; Sigelman et al. 1995; Terkildsen 1993; Citron et al. 1990). Therefore, I argue that African American candidates who utilize deracialized electoral strategies are more likely to garner higher levels of white voter support and win state legislative elections. Using a multi-methodological approach including a national representative survey of candidates who competed in state legislative elections in 1996 and 1998, precinct level data to examine white crossover voting in twelve biracial elections in 2000, and qualitative interviews with state legislative candidates, I demonstrate that while African American and white state legislative candidates organize their campaigns in a similar manner, candidate race and campaign related factors, specifically issue and voter targeting strategies, influence the electoral success of African American state legislative candidates.

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