June 3rd, 2009
05:45 AM ET
9 years ago

McAuliffe’s chances in Virginia may hinge on black voters

McAuliffe is one of three Democrats seeking their party's nomination for governor in Virginia.

McAuliffe is one of three Democrats seeking their party's nomination for governor in Virginia.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - In the battle for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination, a race with many uncertainties, a major question has bubbled to the surface in the closing days of the campaign: How many African-American voters will actually show up?

If they do come to the polls in large numbers during next Tuesday's primary, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe could very well be the beneficiary and move on to face Republican Bob McDonnell in the general election, a race that will be fraught with national implications. But if many of those voters stay home, McAuliffe’s lively and unconventional bid for the governorship might come to an end.

“At the end of the day, the African-American vote will be the decisive factor in this race,” said Bob Holsworth, the Richmond-based political analyst.

Although Virginia’s Democratic drift in recent years has arisen in large part from the population growth in left-leaning northern Virginia, next week’s three-way primary race may ultimately hinge on a very different part of the state - the stretch from Richmond to Hampton Roads along the southeast coast.

If the three candidates manage to divvy up the votes in northern Virginia - a growing possibility now that Creigh Deeds, a state senator from a rural district, is riding a burst of momentum following a key endorsement form the Washington Post - then the candidate who can best marshal voters downstate may have an edge.

It’s there where McAuliffe has been aggressively organizing in predominantly black neighborhoods, flooding urban radio stations with ads, and even campaigning alongside hip-hop performers like will.i.am and Biz Markie. As of Tuesday, McAuliffe had spent about $1 million on television advertising, with most of his ads purchased in downstate media markets.

“McAuliffe has a much better ground organization and get-out-the-vote effort,” said Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the state’s highest-ranking African-American elected official, whose district encompasses the east side of Richmond and a chunk of the Tidewater region. “My sense is that Terry McAuliffe will do very well," said Scott, who has not endorsed a candidate.

McAuliffe’s two rivals - Deeds and former House Democratic caucus chairman Brian Moran - are longtime legislators who have nurtured political relationships in all corners of the commonwealth. Political observers and strategists for all three campaigns believe that both men could benefit if statewide turnout on Tuesday is low, as it was during the 2006 Democratic Senate primary between Jim Webb and Harris Miller that witnessed just 155,00 voters.

If turnout remains under 200,000 voters, the contest will in all likelihood be decided by what Joe Abbey, Deeds’ campaign manager, called “the super voter” - the kind of Democratic activists who never miss an election. If the vote-count balloons beyond 200,000, the race becomes, in the words of one top Moran official, “a jump ball.”

McAuliffe, a newcomer to Virginia politics and a resident of populous Fairfax County, is gambling on a different strategy – “expanding the electorate,” particularly among the African-American voters who rallied to Barack Obama’s campaign last year. In last February’s Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton, 30 percent of the nearly one million voters were African-American.

“Our goal all along has been to capture some of the energy and excitement that all those new voters felt in the 2008 presidential race, to keep those people in the process,” said Mo Elleithee, a senior strategist for McAuliffe.

Aides to McAuliffe’s two opponents acknowledge that McAuliffe has built a muscular get-out-the-vote operation in black precincts in Richmond and Hampton Roads, but contend that his support is soft and waning down the stretch. They attribute McAuliffe’s operational strength to his deep pockets: the master fundraiser has raked in nearly $7 million since jumping into the race late last year. By contrast, Moran has raised $4.8 million, while Deeds has soaked up $3.8 million.

Moran - an Alexandria native who is depending on a large turnout from his northern Virginia base that would swamp his rivals no matter how well they perform elsewhere - has the backing of a number of local African-American officials throughout the commonwealth, including the Richmond’s mayor Dwight Jones. His campaign argues that kind of institutional support will help them win over black voters on Tuesday.

“The nice thing for our get-out-the-vote organization is that in a lot of places, our organization is the local mayor’s organization,” said Moran communication director Jesse Ferguson. “That’s a big part of how we make a GOTV program work, when we will be outspent.”

The Deeds campaign also believes they can perform well in Richmond and Hampton Roads, and that the race will be decided downstate. Deeds' path to victory relies on a broad coalition of supporters not just from northern Virginia, Richmond and in the urban areas along the coast, but also from Deeds’ base of support in rural and small-town Virginia.

“We definitely do well among those white rural voters, and those are places where we’re trying to turn out,” Abbey said, adding that his cash-strapped candidate will finish out the week by with a series of campaign stops in small towns “where we can boost turnout for free.” Hoping to finish strong in and around the Beltway, Deeds is also scheduled to appear later this week on two Washington area radio shows with broad reach.

Quentin Kidd, a political scientist a Christopher Newport University in Newport News, said there are too many variables in the race to make a definitive forecast. If turnout in northern Virginia is extraordinarily high, he predicted a Moran win. If turnout is mediocre across the board, he said, Deeds may escape with a come-from-behind win with support from undecided voters.

But he said McAuliffe alone has the kind of resources to actually get the bulk of his supporters to the polls on Tuesday, particularly in the African-American communities along the I-64 corridor where his organizers have targeted potential voters.

“I think McAuliffe has put together such a turnout machine that I think it’s going to be hard to overcome him,” Kidd said.

Filed under: Brian Moran • Terry McAuliffe • Virginia
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Johnny DC

    People like Biz Markie actually having an influence on voter turnout during an election, vote for the black guy... why does this sound familiar?

    June 3, 2009 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  2. HaHaHa

    Republican hate loses once more. Fools.Keep it up. The GOP is dead dead dead!

    June 3, 2009 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  3. JonDie

    May hinge on black voters? Sounds like CNN needs to fire Hamby. Of course, McAuliffe's chances depend on black voters. African-Americans make up a huge group within the Democratic Party and are almost non-existent within the Republican Party.

    June 3, 2009 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  4. Judge Smails

    "campaigning alongside hip-hop performers like will.i.am and Biz Markie. "

    Once again turning the election process into a carnival act. Hopefully ALL voters will see beyond this travelling flea act and elect a responsible and knowledgeable either dem or rep candidate.

    June 3, 2009 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  5. Florida Bob

    The 2008 had a very bitter primary season and McAuliffe burned some bridges with the Black community, however Blacks will still likely vote for him as we tend to vote Democrat, but it wont be an enthusiastic vote.

    June 3, 2009 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  6. roscoe

    I guess most people don't remember Global Crossing.
    Wake up!!!!

    June 3, 2009 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Well this is one black vote that he can't count on.


    June 3, 2009 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  8. J.Crobuzon

    That's right, blame it on the black man again. Same old song. :]

    June 3, 2009 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  9. John Sivills

    I grew up in Virginia. I don't think McAuliffe is the best candidate; not that he is not capable of governing. It just seems more like there needs to be something to do post the 2008 Presidential Election by McAuliffe; whereas the other two candidates, particularly Deeds, have more invested in the governing of Virginia and understand Virginia's values better. McAullife seems more combative. He's spent a considerable amount of time out of state raising money, which to me seems problematic. Although all three democratic candidates would be better than McDonnell.

    June 3, 2009 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  10. Lori

    Just goes to show the GOP how hard it will be for them to win elections, outside of the South, without black and hispanic voters. The Republicans can continue to spew their hate towards ethnic people in our country like our President and Ms. Sotomayor, while we Dems will continue to be inclusive. Hopefully, the African-Americans voters will come out in droves like they did last election, and vote for McAuliffe.

    P.S. GOP, I just heard that Bin Laden sent a message today. JUST ANOTHER REMINDER OF THE FAILED POLICIES OF GEORGE W BUSH AND THE REPUBLICANS!!! GOP= Soft on foreign policy!!!

    June 3, 2009 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  11. Steve

    McAuliffe would be great for Virginia, we need someone with no executive experience that can help us raise our taxes! What could be better?

    June 3, 2009 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  12. Candy West Virginia

    ALthough I don't want any republican to get the gov spot, i don't want terry either. He was shameless during the primaries and reminded me of a republican.

    June 3, 2009 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  13. Lori asks the GOP why Saddam is dead but Bin Laden is Alive?!!

    I hope that McAuliffe wins!!!

    June 3, 2009 08:33 am at 8:33 am |

    this is nice and all but why not article CNN about how Obama wants to tax all 177 million of our employer sponsored health benefits for his socialist agenda? Why not talk of that? What it will do is put thousands of small businesses out of business or lead to even more layoffs. Only 3 and a half more years. My God that seems like a long time.

    June 3, 2009 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  15. Michael

    As an educated African-American, this type of article impedes the racial progress that has been made. The crux of the article suggests that people with a darker skin tone such as mine may be the deciding factor in some race. This absolutley makes no sense. People of all skin tones and races do not see the issues in the same manner. Further, why point out black people as the deciding factor? Are women 50/50 in the race? Are Latino's 50/50 in this race? Are Asians 50/50 in this race? Did I miss those articles?

    All in all, while a person's race may be similar to another, at the end of the day, people are people and to write an article such as this, diminshes my status as a person and downgrades my status to a color.

    June 3, 2009 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  16. phoenix86

    Just a question for CNN: Sec. Geithner was laughed at in Beijing when he said in a speech that Chinese assets were "safe" in the US. The ramifications of this laughter in the face of the US Treasury Secretrary (never happened before) seem to mean that the US currency is no longer considered safe by many Chinese investors.

    Any chance CNN will devote some real reporting resources to this?

    June 3, 2009 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  17. Elly in VA

    Bob McDonnel is going to own whichever dem wins the nomination. Virginians already have buyer's remorse about Obama.

    June 3, 2009 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  18. T.T.L.

    Deeds will win!

    June 3, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  19. Dave

    It's all about blacks and latinos and women and any other way the Democrats can think of to break us up into categories.

    Notice how they are playing the race card against the republicans for not liking Judge Sotomayor's liberal ways. Yet when the Democrats attacked Justice Clarence Thomas and Estrada and Gonzales and Condi Rice that was never brought up.

    June 3, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  20. T.T.L.

    Deeds will win the general also!

    June 3, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  21. Jillian, VA

    Oh, so now he needs black people? He helped Hillary and Bill run a very racist campaign, but now he's friendly to black people?

    Also, contrary to racist beliefs, every black person doesn't listen to urban radio, will.i.am and Biz Markie. I don't know who Biz Markie is, and really don't want to know.

    My suggestion is that McAuliffe stick to the good ole boys for votes, that's who he and Hillary wooed in 2008.

    June 3, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  22. Patrick

    T-Mac is the man! I am phone bamking for him a couple times a week and I met him last weekend. The guys has tons of good ideas and boundless energy to get to work for us in Virginia. He will make a great governor. He and Bill Clinton have been good friends for 20 years and that will be a great resource for him to go to. When you meet this guy, you just know he is raring to go and will work 18 hours a day getting our issues resolved. I can't wait to see him in the governor's mansion.

    June 3, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  23. Kenyan Wonder Kid

    This racial remark made by Peter Hamby suggests that blacks are either easily taken in by fast talking con men or are stupid, while whites are much more intelligent, since we all know what a slime ball and idiot McAuliffe is.

    I completely reject Peter Hamby's racial remarks.

    June 3, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  24. Reality Check

    And do you think there would be all these issues of "racism" if the media weren't perpetuating it????

    June 3, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  25. Dallas Independent - thank goodness

    The blacks would turn our en masse, again, if this were a presidential election but, for senate, he's better not get his hopes up for a big turnout.

    June 3, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
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