Virginia offers Democrats an opportunity to test Black turnout prior to 2022

Many fans of Norfolk State University were ready to answer Terry McAuliffe's questions as he worked the crowd at their homecoming football game.

Virginia offers Democrats an opportunity to test Black turnout prior to 2022

"Everyone I spoke to said that he had already voted. McAuliffe stated that he had already voted during his campaign last weekend.

McAuliffe cannot afford to be worried. His victory could hinge on the strength of this core group of voters.

National activists are concerned that President Joe Biden's declining approval ratings and a lack action by the Democrat controlled Congress on voting rights issues important to African Americans could spell trouble in a race that Glenn Youngkin, a Republican ex-businessman, is already extremely tight.

"Black voters are feeling like they're taken for granted," stated Wes Bellamy (co-chair of Our Black Party), which promotes political positions that favor African Americans.

Any sign of waning enthusiasm from Democratic base voters could be even more devastating for the party during next year's midterm election, when the party's narrow control over both congressional chambers will be at stake.

According to AP VoteCast (a national survey of 2020 voters), 11% of the nation's electorate was made up of black voters. 9 in 10 of those who supported Biden in the last year were from Black America. However, any decrease in support for Biden could have the opposite effect on statewide races net year.

Democrats are mobilizing their brightest national stars to fight complacency within the party ranks. Vice President Kamala Harris recorded an applauding video for McAuliffe and will be seen in 300 churches across the state. Harris is also campaigning for McAuliffe's support in Northern Virginia's Washington exurbs on Thursday. This weekend, former President Barack Obama will visit Richmond.

He will be following Georgia Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams as well as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance bottoms, who both visited Black churches last weekend. Abrams will return to the state Sunday for a Charlottesville rally.

"When people are able to show you who you are, believe them," Abrams stated at Second Calvary Baptist Church in Norfolk last week to calls from "That's right!" "Terry has already shown you who you are."

McAuliffe was governor from 2014 to 2018. He has been to 60+ Black churches. His campaign claims that McAuliffe held the first of many planned "Souls to the Polls” efforts to get African American worshippers to early voting locations.

Since Virginia recently began allowing early voting without excuse, it's hard to gauge the success. McAuliffe advisors state that they are encouraged by the number of early votes cast. Nearly 310,000 people have voted in person, and almost 180,000 more have voted by mail.

This is a small number compared to the 1,000,000 Virginians who voted via mail last year. These numbers could be offset by strong results on Election Day when more Republicans than Democrats tend to vote.

McAuliffe (who is white) mentions at almost every campaign stop how he was recruited to run again by statehouse Black members. This helped him surpass three Black candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial primaries, two of which were women.

He released this week an ad that focused on the 2017 clash between white supremacists in Charlottesville and counterprotesters. This was part of an ongoing effort by McAuliffe to keep ex-President Donald Trump's name front and center for Virginia voters. The ad contrasted Trump's statement that there were "very good people on both sides" with McAuliffe’s reaction as governor when he exhorted the "white supremacists, and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today to go home. You are not wanted."

Youngkin's message for Black voters supports his economic plans.

"Terry McAuliffe did not deliver for the Black community in his role as governor, losing their support. Now he is desperate to win their trust," stated Macaulay Porter, spokesperson for Youngkin.

Bellamy, from Our Black Party spent the past weeks driving through Virginia, and was amazed at how many Youngkin yard signs he saw. McAuliffe's "very strong record" will assist him in the Black community, but there are potential obstacles for national Democrats.

He stated, "When you look at the national politics, when it comes to some of the promises that the Biden campaign made but have not yet delivered on, I believe there will be a trickle-down effect."

Bellamy criticized Congress for failing to pass federal voting rights legislation, and policing Reform. Bellamy stated that many Black voters are concerned that top Democrats have not endorsed changes to Senate rules in order to pass such legislation over the unified Republican opposition. However, they have indicated that they may be open to changing chamber rules to move major spending bills.

The Senate did indeed vote on Wednesday for a voting rights package, but it was blocked by Republican opposition. This is the type of maneuver that changing chamber rules could prevent.

McAuliffe claims that Black voters are familiar with his record as governor. He restored voting rights to many ex-victims of Virginia and forced state legislators to expand Medicare coverage through the Obama administration's signature law.

He also published a campaign plan to "Lift up Black Virginians," in which he pledges to accelerate the path to a $15 an hour minimum wage and work to ensure that state government supports Black-owned banks as well as promotes diversity within financial fields.

Jenkins Zardee (62), a former Navy sailor, stated that he believes there is enough enthusiasm.

Zardee stated, "It's all in turnout." "But people also know that if you don't like the four years just ended, you can vote for Terry McAuliffe."

However, this message has not reached everyone. Regina Scheithauer was a singer and part time school volunteer who attended the same rally. She said about Abrams: "That's how to get people to pay attention."

Scheithauer claimed she didn't know much about McAuliffe, despite him being governor. She also said that she wasn't sure if she would vote for McAuliffe.

Another wildcard candidate is Princess Blanding. She's the sister to a Black man, who was shot and killed by Richmond police officers in 2018. As a third-party candidate, she is running for governor. McAuliffe and Abrams held a rally where some people carried Blanding campaign signs. Despite their small numbers, they outnumbered those who were waving Youngkin signs.

The Democratic National Committee announced an advertising campaign that will feature ads in Spanish-language radio and Black radio stations, as well as print media targeting the Asian American community. This is in addition to the $5 million Virginia spent on training and organizing campaign staff.

Cliff Albright, cofounder of Black Voters Matter, stated that Democratic outreach efforts in Virginia have been late and underfunded. He also said that they have relied too much on ads and not enough on ground outreach. He predicted that bringing in Democratic standouts wouldn't suffice to rectify this.

It will take more than just a few visits to attract new voters. Albright stated that it will take creating excitement at the grassroots level. Ideally, excitement around policies that people are passionate about and feel is on the line. "I don't know if McAuliffe really explained to people what the urgency was in order to get the new voters they need."