Despite Barack Obama's claim in 2004 that "There is no Black America or White America or Latino America or Asian America, there is just the United States of America.", those fractured Americas have existed for decades in the form of majority-minority Congressional districts. These contorted districts are gerrymandered to surround a population that -- as the term implies -- consists mostly of racial minorities. The purpose of these districts is to take advantage of racial cohesion within these minority communities to guarantee the election of minority Congressmen. To this end the majority-minority districts are very successful.
One side-effect of majority-minority communities is that minority politicians do not need to appeal to a broad range of voters, only to people who are generally like themselves. This means that when a Congressman from a majority-minority district wants to run for higher office in a statewide election -- such as Governor or Senator -- that politician has no experience with the statewide electorate. Worse, because that Congressman has spent his career adhering to the preferences of his minority constituency he has very likely taken positions and cast votes that are unappealing to the statewide electorate. Thus, while majority-minority districts cause there to be more minority Congressmen than there would otherwise be, they actually hinder the development of minority politicians at the higher levels. The districts are honeypots that attract talented minority candidates and then trap them, preventing them from reaching higher office.
And so, the Democrats' diversity problem.
Of the 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships, only nine represent majority-white constituencies--and that declines to six in 2011. Two of the party's rising black stars who sought statewide office this year were rejected by their party's own base. And when you only look at members of Congress or governors elected by majority-white constituencies (in other words, most of the governorships and Senate seats, and 337 out of 435 House seats), Democrats trail Republicans in minority representation.
In fact, Republicans experienced a diversity boomlet this year. Cognizant of their stuffy national image, party leaders made a concerted effort to recruit a more diverse crop of candidates. That resulted in more than doubling the number of minority elected officials from six to 13--and a ten-fold increase (from one to 10) in the number of minorities representing majority-white constituencies.
The numbers reflect an inconvenient reality--even with their more diverse caucus, Democrats face the same challenges as Republicans in recruiting, nominating, and electing minority candidates to statewide office and in majority-white suburban and rural districts. The vast majority of black and Hispanic members hail from urban districts that don't require crossover votes to win, or represent seats designed to elect minorities. They are more liberal than the average Democrat, no less the average voter, making it more difficult to run statewide campaigns.
These are far from trivial facts. This means Democrats lack a bench of minority candidates who can run for statewide office, no less national office. Most Democratic minorities make a career in the House, accruing seniority and influence but lacking broad-based political support.
It should be no surprise to readers of this blog that the unintended consequences of majority-minority districts outweigh the benefits the districts were supposed to create. Diversity of all kinds is extremely valuable, but often the medicine can be worse than the disease.