MSNBC Blacks Out Historic Win by Black Republican Winsome Sears

Virginia Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Winsome Sears takes the stage with her family during an election night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia / Getty Images
November 3, 2021

In a night of news coverage devoted to the racial undertones of the Virginia gubernatorial election, MSNBC failed to devote any significant coverage to the election of Republican lieutenant governor candidate Winsome Sears, who became the first black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia history.

MSNBC's main political panel of commentators Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid, and Nicolle Wallace, who argued throughout Tuesday night's election coverage that Republicans ran a racist campaign in Virginia, did not mention Sears a single time as it watched returns come in. The 57-year-old Jamaican immigrant and Marine veteran ran at the top of the ticket with Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and focused her campaign on the same issues, including fighting against critical race theory.

The first mention of Sears on MSNBC didn't come until early Wednesday morning after her victory speech, which was not aired by the network. In the speech, Sears, joined by her black husband and their children, discussed her experience as a first-generation immigrant and making history as the first black woman elected to statewide office. "I'm telling you that what you are looking at is the American dream," Sears told the crowd of supporters.

The black-out of Sears came as MSNBC commentators leaned in on the issue of race and how it turned the election for Republicans. Reid, who in the past has called black conservatives Uncle Toms, said Republicans ran a "racially focused" race that used education as "code" to racist white parents.

"Unfortunately, race is just the most palpable tool in the toolkit," Reid said explaining how Republicans won in Virginia.

Reid's assessment was echoed by guests such as political analyst Jason Johnson, who said Youngkin's biggest challenge was hiding that he was a "fire-breathing horns-out-of-his-skull racist." David Plouffe, a Democratic strategist who managed Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, said Youngkin's focus on critical race theory was "flat out racist."

Sears slammed critical race theory during her successful campaign for lieutenant governor. "It's going to be detrimental to our schools and not what we want," she said after she won the nomination in May. "It supposedly is to help someone who looks like me and I'm sick of it, I'm sick of being used by the Democrats and so are many people who look like me."

Though Sears's historic victory has been largely ignored by mainstream media outlets, other racial firsts are getting significant coverage. Featured on the Wednesday morning homepage of the New York Times is an article on the first Muslim woman ever elected to the New York City Council, and the homepage of the Washington Post is an article celebrating Boston for electing an Asian woman as mayor. Sears's accomplishment in Virginia, a Southern state that was home to the former capital of the Confederacy, was featured on neither.

Following up on its race-focused coverage the night before, MSNBC contributor and former Democratic senator Claire McCaskill celebrated on Wednesday morning that her party was running a "smart and articulate" black candidate in Florida, an apparent reference to Democratic Senate candidate Val Demings.

The New York Times has argued that describing black candidates as "articulate," like Joe Biden did to Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders did to Kamala Harris, is racist because it "sends a message that you think most black people are not."

"When someone feels the need to point out that an individual black person has these qualities, it's understandable that black people who hear this will infer that the speaker thinks this is unusual and that black people are usually the opposite," the Times wrote.