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

McAuliffe’s chances in Virginia may hinge on black voters

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/18/art.maccaullife.gi.jpg caption="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. barking republican ankle biters

    This is what makes politics worse than pond scum.Three carpet baggers from both parties looking to screw the people and colllect a check from big business.

    June 3, 2009 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  2. TCM

    Hey McAuliffe, just send out ACORN with a stack of crisp $10's or some gift cards for video games....and you'll get all the black votes you want. They won't know what they're voting for, just like Obama, but you'll buy the vote!

    June 3, 2009 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  3. Stacy from Leesburg, VA

    I have had no less than 4 phone calls in the past three weeks from the T. McAuliffe campaign and none from C. Deeds or B. Moran. Living in Northern VA and a fervant Obama supporter, I have a hard time supporing McAuliffe because of the nasty campaign he ran against President Obama in the Presidential Primaries. But, I don't think Deeds or Moran can mount the 'national' campaign this really will be against McDonnell. The GOP is going to throw everything they have at Virginia and I think McAuliffe can win the arms race against the GOP...so do I vote with my head or gut?

    June 3, 2009 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  4. Enough

    Why is race always brought into it? Just get Acorn out there and it's a done deal.

    June 3, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  5. RealityKing

    What democrat's chances of election don't hinge on black votes?

    And what have black achieved under democrats?? Besides the lose of their family values..

    June 3, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  6. Terry

    why is there an assumption that black voters will vote for McAuliffe? I haven't forgotten that he trashed Obama, I suspect others will remember too.

    June 3, 2009 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  7. Terry

    It dosn't matter to me which Democrat wins as long as one of them does. We absolutely must eradicate Conservatism from the national political debate. Those people have done everything they can to prevent the nation from solving its problems for more than a century.

    For a while, Conservatives were mostly Democrats. Then, when Lyndon Johnson rammed the Civil Rights bills through Congress in the sixties, many alienated Conservative voters became Republicans. Richard Nixon develope the "southern" strategy, with great success. Reagan used it, as did Bush1 and Bush2.

    Conservatives opposed the abolition of slavery, equal rights for minorities, equal rights for women (Conservative women take note), the 8 hour day, the 40 hour week, overtime pay, workplace safety regulations, health inspectors, import inspection, retirement benefits, social security, medicare, antipollution laws, child health programs, unions, the minimum wage, EVERY proposed increase in the minimum wage, etc.

    The world has too many problems to allow Conservatism to stop or delay progress any longer. Those folks need to be re-educated.

    June 3, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  8. Patrick

    Why would black voters vote for him over the other two candidates? I don't buy that the Democrats represent black voters better than the Republicans or other parties.

    June 3, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  9. Mike in NYC

    Forced to glad-hand the least educated part of the electorate.

    June 3, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  10. Teleprompter of the U.S.A.

    And it will hinge on how well he lies about his record.

    June 3, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  11. JerryGlastonbury

    This Northern Va voter is for Creigh Deeds.

    Pres. Obama's eagerness to give Wall Street anything it wants ($13 Trillion available so far,) while claiming 'we-haven't-got-money-for-health-care' and proposing $300 Billion in Medicare/Medicaid cuts and HMO-style rationing–is the November wild-card.

    If Obama continues his current slavish adherence to Wall Street, the Dem nominee is probably about as electable as Hitler–whose minions, by the way were prosecuted at Nuremburg for the crime against humanity of rationing medical care.

    June 3, 2009 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. bye bye GOP

    oh the U.S. future would be brighter if the GOP would finish the imploding and the independants would rise from their ashes

    waiting for it to happen takes too long

    June 3, 2009 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  13. No Mo Bush

    If that is the case then forget it PUMA boy.

    June 3, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  14. Pee Wee

    Identity politics at its finest! Brought to you by the Master Snake-oil salesman, Mr. McAuliffe.

    Pander, Terry, Pander!

    I wish our politicians would take more time to PONDER, instead of PANDER. What a beautiful world that would be!

    June 3, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  15. nom deplume, esq.

    What???? The Washington Post, a critical MSM outlet, didn't endorse McAuliffe like they were supposed to???? I expect Gibbs and Dean will be taking them to the woodshed for that. What were they thinking, not endorsing the democrat???

    June 3, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  16. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    It is hard to imagine McAuliffe not winning the election. I predict the Democrats will sweep the 2010 elections......... simply because America is sick and tired of the vile GOP rhetoric!

    June 3, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  17. Vic of New York

    Despite the fact that I switched to the Democrats years ago - when I first sensed the Republican slide to the extreme Right - I do not recommend Viginians vote for Terri McAuliffe.

    I don't care what the pundits and Democratic backers say – mcAuliffe is a low-life whose PR firm has represented, pandered to, and lobbied for the worst of the worst of Foriegn governments, American Corporations, and depicable individuals.

    McAuliffe was Hillary Clinton's Campain Manager and is the individual directly responsible for the rancor and continual lies that practically led Democrats into a brawl over the Primaries.

    This guy is a sleaze of the calibre that makes Bill Cliton look Cannonized. Stay away – vote Republican if you don't like his Democratic opponent.

    June 3, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
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