The nation’s first black female Senator, who was defeated in her 1998 bid for re-election, announced in early 2003 that she was forming an exploratory committee to run for the Democratic nomination for president. Carol Moseley Braun, now a leading candidate for mayor of Chicago, seemed an unlikely presidential candidate because her time in Washington was so rocky.
NPR’s Ken Rudin explained: “If there was tremendous promise in Carol Moseley Braun’s career in 1992, it had very much dissipated by 1998. There was a sense that she had squandered a tremendous opportunity. For starters, she was accused of (though never formally charged with) campaign finance irregularities, her then-fiance (and campaign manager) was accused of sexual harassment by female campaign workers, and her “private” trip to Nigeria in 1996, where she visited with and defended dictator Sani Abacha, was widely panned, even by many Democrats.”
Many charged that Moseley Braun was a plant in the race, designed to limit the potential impact of Rev. Al Sharpton who had already thrown his (often controversial) hat into the ring. Party leaders feared that Sharpton would be able to pull together enough votes in states with significant black populations to secure himself enough delegates to have a real voice at the convention.
Whatever her reason for running, the former Senator and short-term ambassador to New Zealand, brought a unique perspective to the race. The only female and one of two African-Americans, Moseley Braun’s underfunded bid was often compared to that of pioneering Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who sought the Democratic nomination in 1972. By concentrating her limited resources on more sympathetic states and rallying women, blacks and college students in those states, Chisholm was able to score a decent showing.
“Chisholm’s run for the nomination failed, as she knew it would, but she received 430,000 votes in the presidential primaries leading up to the 1972 Democratic National Convention,” wrote Duke University’s Paula McClain in a 2003 study on African-Americans in American presidential politics. “She ran an impressive campaign considering her fairly late start and shoestring budget. She entered the convention with twenty-eight delegates, but in the end, received votes from 151 delegates on the first roll call ballot. Chisholm became the first and only Black woman to have her name placed into nomination at a national party convention.”
Throughout the Spring and Summer of 2003, Moseley Braun set about building an organization. However, her campaign faced great struggles financially, she raised only about $72,000 during the first reporting period. The schedule of primaries and caucuses was also of little help to her, with Iowa and New Hampshire dominating the early landscape. Her home state of Illinois wouldn’t hold a primary until mid-March, weeks after early rounds of voting, including Super Tuesday, would have made it clear who the presumptive nominee would be.
The question wasn’t if Moseley Braun could win the White House, but more if she would even be a serious factor in the nomination batte as Chisholm had been some 32 years earlier.
And the ultimate answer was no.
Moseley Braun had pinned all of her hopes on a largely ceremonial primary in the District of Columbia that had been scheduled a week before the Iowa caucuses on January 13, 2004. The only candidates on the ballot were former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Al Sharpton, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche.
When the ballots were counted, Dean came out on top with 18,132 votes or 43%, and Sharpton was a competitive second-place finisher, scoring 14,639 votes or 34%. Finishing in a distant third place was the former Senator from Illinois. Moseley Braun captured only 4,924 votes or 12%, leading Dennis Kucinich (8%) and LaRouche (1%).
On January 15, 2004, four days before the Iowa caucuses and having failed to win serious traction in the crowded nine-candidate field, Mosely Braun dropped out of the race and endorsed Howard Dean. Her campaign was essentially broke and had failed to make it on the ballot in several key states. She had been on the losing end of a split among African-American and anti-war voters between herself, Sharpton, Kucinich and others.
Moseley Braun’s endorsement also came at a critical time. Dean’s campaign had started to show some serious cracks and he was seeking any boost he could get. Just days later he would finish a disasterous third-place in Iowa, followed by an unfortunate high-pitched scream after the polls had closed that would seal the fate of his campaign.
Despite having pulled out of the race, Moseley Braun’s name appeared on a number of state ballots and she ultimately accumulated more than 100,000 votes by the end of primary season. Her best showing was in Illinois, a contest held two months after she had ended her run and two weeks after it became clear Senator John Kerry would be the nominee. Moseley Braun captured 53,249 votes or 4.4% for third-place in the meaningless contest, with the majority of her votes that day, 42,469 to be exact, coming from her home base of Cook County.
Since 2004, Moseley Braun’s focus has been on her business and launching a line of organic foods. Now the controversial former Senator is embarking on yet another political comeback as one of the leading candidates for mayor of Chicago.