Amid a deadlocked gubernatorial race in Virginia, a crucial statewide contest with plenty of national implications, longtime Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina had a message for supporters as he campaigned with his party’s nominee in the showdown, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“On Tuesday, people will be looking at it as a bellwether of what is to come. And I want Virginia to once again show this country the way to go,” Clyburn, the third ranking House Democrat, emphasized at a rally in Hampton, Va.
The highest ranking Black lawmaker in Congress emphasized that the Virginia gubernatorial election is being “looked at by people all over this country and from abroad as an indicator of what to look forward to next year. And I want Virginia to show us a glorious result.”
Clyburn was the latest high profile Black Democratic politician to join McAuliffe on the campaign trail as the former governor faces off against GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin. Nearly all the latest public opinion polls indicate that the closely-watched contest is all tied up.
Overwhelming support from Black voters helped McAuliffe win election to a term as Virginia governor in 2013. Soaring turnout by Black voters also helped the Democrats convincingly win back the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, and fueled now-President Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats are hoping for a repeat performance Tuesday in Virginia, a one-time battleground state that’s trended blue the past decade. Biden carried Virginia by 10 points last November and Republicans haven’t won statewide in the commonwealth in a dozen years.
McAuliffe, facing what polls indicate is an enthusiasm gap among Democrats – including Black voters who are a key part of the party’s base, is putting on a full court press to break through the perceived complacency.
But some Democratic leaders and activists are concerned about a lag among Black voters, who may be politically spent after the bruising 2020 fight to defeat then-President Donald Trump. There is also concern that they may be frustrated with the current lack of progress on spending measures and a key voting rights bill by Biden and the Democrats who control both houses of Congress.
“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 was runner up to McAuliffe in June’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, tweeted last month.
While Democrats have seen an uptick in recent weeks, they’re still concerned about a softness in Black voter turnout. McAuliffe has launched a late-game effort to light a fire under his party’s base voters.
“We ain’t got time to be tired,” former President Barack Obama emphasized as he campaigned with McAuliffe at a rally nine days ago in Richmond. “What is required is sustained effort.”
The nation’s first Black president, who remains very popular with Democratic voters nearly five years removed from the White House, said he understood voters were worn down from the nation’s divisive polices as well as the strains from the coronavirus, the worst pandemic to strike the globe in a century. But pointing to Virginia’s election, which political observers see as a bellwether ahead of next year’s midterms when the Democrats will try to hold onto their razor-thin majorities in Congress, Obama urged “don’t sit this one out.”
Obama was the biggest – but not the only draw – to team up with McAuliffe.
Vice President Kamala Harris waves to the crowd along with Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, during a rally in Dumfries, Va., Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (AP )
Vice President Kamala Harris has campaigned with McAuliffe twice in recent weeks.
“This race is tight,” the vice president emphasized two weeks ago at a rally in the voter-rich, heavily diverse, and heavily Democratic D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia. “And we got to make it clear, Virginia, that we’re paying attention. We got to make it clear that we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader who in 2018 made history as the first Black female gubernatorial nominee of a major political party, has hit the Virginia campaign trail a couple of times in recent weeks to energize the Democratic base.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison have also teamed up with McAuliffe.
In addition, the McAuliffe campaign held hundreds of “Souls to the Polls” events the past couple of Sundays to bring Black worshipers to early voting stations.
But veteran Virginia-based GOP consultant Zack Roday argues that McAuliffe’s push in recent weeks to increase Black voter turnout is an admission of failure.
“They need to be bailed out and they’re going to a constituency that’s been there for them in the past,” Roday told Fox News. “It’s really an admission of their strategic failure throughout the campaign that they have not been able to build a winning coalition based off of the issue sets that voters care about.”
The latest surveys indicate McAuliffe overwhelmingly winning the Black vote over Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former private equity CEO. But if Youngkin can make some gains around the margins, or if Black voter turnout wanes, it would spell trouble for McAuliffe.
Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in Old Town Alexandria’s Farmers Market in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., October 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
USA Today/Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos told Fox News last week that come Election Day, “if the Black vote is 20% of the total vote or higher, that puts McAuliffe in the driver’s seat. If the Black vote is between 16%-18%, then Youngkin’s poised to win.”
The pollster also pointed to the 1.8% support in his latest Virginia survey for third party candidate Princess Blanding, an African American criminal justice reform activist who is on the ballot as the candidate for the Liberation Party of Virginia.
“Blanding’s 1.8% is not enough to matter under normal circumstances, but because this race is polling so close, that 1.8% far exceeds the margin between the top two candidates,” Paleologos noted. “Her presence on the ballot could impact the outcome.”