The Democratic Party aims to win the top three political offices in Virginia on November 7 and reduce the 66-seat margin the GOP has in the State House. To do so, it will need a high voter turnout of its base to include African American voters living in the state’s urban centers and other areas.
Blacks make up a sizable portion of the Democratic party’s most loyal base of support in Northern and East Central Virginia (Richmond area), Hampton Roads and the south central area.
Virginia Democrats are working now to defuse a damaging incident so that it does not weaken crucial Black voter turnout during an off-year election when party turnout ebbs.
Last week, the Ralph Northam for Governor campaign was caught omitting any mention of the party’s lieutenant governor candidate, Justin Fairfax, who is African American, from about a thousand pieces of campaign literature in Northern Virginia.
The palm cards with photos of Northam and Mark Herring, who is running for re-election as Attorney General, were handed out by canvassers with the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
The union intentionally excluded Fairfax because they have not endorsed him, due to his opposition to two proposed natural gas pipelines that the union supports.
While surprised Democrats agreed the union can endorse whomever it wants, some party loyalists expressed concern that the campaign literature was approved beforehand by the Northam operations which later called the Fairfax omission a “mistake”.
State Democrats said the union-generated literature omitting Fairfax was only a small part of the 1.5 million pieces of Northam campaign materials distributed in Northern Virginia which showed all three candidates.
But the incident caught the attention of some Democrats in Hampton Roads who were concerned during the primary season that the state party was not showing enough support for Fairfax during his bid for the party’s nomination last spring.
The Fairfax campaign issued a statement stating: “This was a poor decision, which shouldn’t have happened, and we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Sadly, this issue detracts from what we should be focused on which is getting our base, especially our African-American base in Virginia, excited about this election so that they come out to vote.”
Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, faces Republican State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel. He is backed by the AFL-CIO and his policy positions are more liberal than both Northam and Herring.
Rev. Gary McCollum of Virginia Beach, who was among the party activists who raised concerns last spring about party support for Fairfax, called the slight “unfortunate”. He said, “But we can’t let distractions like this slow our momentum leading to the Nov. 7 election.”
“We have a ton of momentum right now and we do not need anything to divide the Democratic party,” said McCollum. “No time to be looking at shiny objects.”
The story broke the same day former President Barack Obama was in Richmond to campaign with Northam, Fairfax and Herring to help intensify the Democratic message and to inspire Blacks to turn out to the polls.
In 2008 when Obama first ran for the White House and in 2012 seeking a second term, the General Election turnout for Democrats was huge. It helped candidates up and down the ballot win close races against Republicans.
Obama is not on the ballot this year, and Democrats hope this does not deter Democrats especially Africans Americans from turning out in respectable numbers.
The Republicans have not won a statewide race in eight years. Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016.
Trump failed to win Virginia in 2016 and he is unpopular among its voters 10 months into his term.
Gillespie has been keeping arms distance from the White House. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned with him on October 10 in Washington County during a poorly attended rally.
Northam has the financial and technical resources and has run in all parts of the state, despite the recent controversy related to Fairfax.
But that does not give Democrats running a statewide race any comfort, for they have seen their leads in polls shrink during off year elections, leading up to the election day.
Gillespie lost to incumbent Senator Mark Warner in his bid for reelection by 17,000 votes, but the polls gave the Democrat a comfortable lead going into the 2014 off-year election.
The latest Wason poll for Public Policy puts Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor, within striking distance of Democrat Ralph Northam, giving Democrats sufficient cause for concern as the Democratic team seeks to retain the top seats now in Democratic hands.