Democrats strive to fire Black voter turnout in Virginia governor’s race

In a vital election for Democrats this fall, veteran party stalwart Terry McAuliffe is unexpectedly being run to the wire by his Republican rival, a political newcomer, in the governor’s race in Virginia.

One path to victory for McAuliffe is turning out enough Black voters – and he and the party leadership are keenly aware of it – but can they make it happen?

Prominent Black politicians have rushed in to campaign for him.

Last week, it was Kamala Harris (twice) and Barack Obama, while the Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Democratic National Committee chairman, Jaime Harrison, and Georgia senator Raphael Warnock have been there previously.

By 2 November, the gubernatorial election day, McAuliffe will have stood on stage three times with Georgia’s Stacey Abrams – the top architect of turnout strategy for minority voters.

Abrams’s plan is direct: bring enough Black voters to the polls and they will support Democrats to victory over 90% of the time.

But many party regulars knocking on doors to boost turnout are noting fatigue.

After a bruising campaign that focused on the Black electorate in the presidential race run against the backdrop of a global pandemic which disproportionately affected them, many Black voters are weary.

“I know I’m hearing from people at the doors that they are tired and they are so frustrated from Covid-19, the pandemic, the economic crisis and more,” former Virginia state delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who came in second to McAuliffe in the June primary, tweeted.

Four years ago Virginia’s current Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, defeated Republican Ed Gillespie by eight points. The race between Terry McAuliffe, 64, who served as governor from 2013 to 2017, and the GOP’s Glenn Youngkin, 54, an investment banker, is widely viewed as too close to call.

Three days ago in Arlington, Joe Biden campaigned for the second time in McAuliffe’s race, despite having a packed agenda with landing his flagship Build Back Better legislative agenda and spearheading action at the Cop26 climate summit.

This, despite McAuliffe publicly venting at Washington: “We in the states are desperate for this infrastructure money … it’s frustrating. Quit your little chitty chat, do your job.”

There is no question that McAuliffe will win the majority of the Black vote – in 2013, more than 37% of his winning total came from Black voters, only 20% of the state’s population – but how much of that decisive bloc will turn out this time?

Enthusiastic crowds packing the Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus in Richmond last weekend to see Obama were definitely not tired.

But neither are Black voters who support his opponents, Youngkin and a third party candidate, the leftwinger and activist Princess Blanding.

At a recent rally for Youngkin in Norfolk, south-eastern Virginia, Giovanni Dolmo, 39, a Black conservative and US navy veteran, stood under a small awning outside a sports bar and declared his enthusiasm for the Republican businessman.

“I support Glenn Youngkin, cause I’ve done my study on him. I looked up everything he’s speaking about. I’ve learned what he’s talking about – cutting taxes, supporting veterans … the main thing as well, he is a man of God,” said Dolmo, in an interview with Fox News from the event.

Religion is often mentioned as a reason to support Youngkin.

The emphasis on Christian faith was echoed by Kennetha White of Virginia Beach who attended a large get-out-the-vote evening rally by Youngkin last weekend near a farmer’s market in Henrico, a suburb of the state’s capital, Richmond.

On another crisp morning before 8am at the other end of the commonwealth, in wealthy Great Falls on the outskirts of Washington DC, near Youngkin’s home, a prayer service was held before he launched a campaign bus tour.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin greets attendees during a rally in Roanoke this week. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

“He’s a man of faith. Faith is huge right now. I think I can see unity actually coming out of what he says. A lot of times people preach unity but don’t really back it up,” said Isaac Ellsworth, 24, a Black Youngkin supporter who lives in nearby Arlington.

Though McAuliffe is Catholic and attended Catholic University, Youngkin is visibly centering religion in his platform. The former investment banker tends to begin meetings with prayers and part of his stump speech includes a request to be added to the prayers of his supporters.

On policy, the contest has highlighted educational choice, security and Covid-19.

Youngkin set a pro-police, public safety narrative early in the campaign by claiming crime rates were high during McAuliffe’s governorship.

McAuliffe countered with pro-police ads and pronouncements against the “defund police” demands which emerged in the widespread uprisings after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

On the fringe of the Obama event last Saturday, three supporters of Blanding spoke about their candidate.

Third party gubernatorial candidate Princess Blanding checks her phone after an interview in Saluda, Va., Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.
Princess Blanding, who formed the Liberation party to run for office, could be a disruptor in the gubernatorial race. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

“I fight for the underdog and she’s definitely an underdog,” said Pops Holmes, 48, who lives near Richmond, just as senator Tim Kaine could be heard stumping for McAuliffe in the background.

Blanding formed the Liberation party in order to run for office, declaring that the two-party-system has failed Black and brown communities in America.

Three other people of color had challenged McAuliffe for the Democratic nomination, but the governor’s race has come down to two rich, white men – although Blanding could prove a decisive disrupter.

Blanding’s brother, Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old teacher, was killed by a Richmond police officer, Michael Nyantakyi, in May 2018.

Her brother’s death prompted a new state framework for a mental health crisis response system, which Blanding called watered down, ineffective and “exactly what this racist, corrupt and broken system expected you all [lawmakers] to do”.

Blanding played a key role in the removal of the statue of the Confederate civil war General Robert E Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond last month.

Lawrence West, 38, heads Black Lives Matter in Richmond and will also be voting for Blanding.

“Terry McAuliffe already had an opportunity [as governor]. So everything good that he says that he will do, he already had the chance to do so. I can’t even say that for Glenn Youngkin, right? But at the end of the day, even down to these signs, we were persecuted for putting these signs up,” West says pointing to a small lawn sign for Blanding.

On the main stage, Obama, broadcast live on TV, was imploring Democratic voters: “Don’t sit this one out”, echoing other Black campaigners on the trail telling supporters to wake up after polls and early voting numbers showed higher enthusiasm on the Republican side and an “enthusiasm gap” among Democrats.

“We ain’t got time to be tired,” Obama said. “You’re going to decide this election and the direction of Virginia and this country for generations to come.”

Speaking on stage behind a firehouse in Dumfries, an hour south-west of the US Capitol, just days ago, Kamala Harris urged supporters: “This race is tight. We gotta make it clear, Virginia, that we’re paying attention,we’re not taking anything for granted.”





Source link

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: