In Wake of Charlottesville Violence, Activists Eye Spike In Black Voter Turnout In Virginia

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Gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam (D) has been criticized for his lack of outreach to Virgina’s Black voters. (Image courtesy of The Washington Examiner)

All eyes will be on Virginia come Tuesday, Nov. 7, as Democratic activists expect a surge in Black voter turnout in the upcoming gubernatorial race fueled by fallout over this summer’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

With Black voter turnout rates dwindling across the country since the contentious 2016 presidential election, activists are hoping backlash from the deadly “Unite the Right” rally will help tip the scales in this week’s high stakes race. Black political groups have run a steady stream of radio and digital ads invoking the racially-charged protests, according to Politico, and some have even gone door-to-door urging Black residents to get out and vote.

“They feel that it’s not politics as usual,” Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of political organization BlackPAC, told the magazine. The group has been working with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign to turn out African-American voters in majority-Black neighborhoods.

“They know that something else is going on here,” Shropshire added.

The effort comes after an alarming poll earlier this summer showing local voters’ fears over the current political climate. While more than 65 percent of voters polled by BlackPAC said they were extremely likely to vote, 54 percent said they felt minorities were under attack. Another 73 percent agreed, adding that they believed voting would “send a resounding message to [President Donald] Trump.”

So, the organization framed voting as a means to stand up against racism and injustice. Today, over 90 percent of those polled by BlackPAC during its door-to-door canvassing say they are willing to sign a pledge card to vote, Politico reported. Rising crime, voting rights, support for public housing and criminal justice reform are among voters’ reasons to head to the polls this time around.

In addition to its other efforts, BlackPAC has addressed the racist Charlottesville violence in a series of online and radio ads. Another group, CollectivePAC, has also run ads invoking the NFL player protests, started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“This November, we have a historic opportunity to elect African-Americans all across the state of Virginia,” a narrator for the CollectivePAC ad said. ” … The power is in our hands. We can’t be distracted. We must vote!”

Meanwhile, BlackPAC’s ads used strong images of the Charlottesville rally that left a woman dead, juxtaposed against images of the civil rights movement.

“White supremacy stormed into Charlottesville and is being used for political gain,” the 30-second ad says. “We’ve fought too hard for progress to watch it pushed back in the name of Making America Great Again.”

Despite the expected uptick in Black voter turnout, some Democrats have criticized Northam for his lack of outreach to minority voters leading up to the election, during which he focused his efforts on white moderates, according to the magazine. Steve Phillips, a major donor to the Democratic Party, said the lieutenant governor should’ve talked more about the “most high-profile presidential-backed white supremacist march in this country,” and affirmative action.

Other critics felt he should’ve given a clearer response to local demands to remove Confederate monuments, a decision he said should be left to local cities. His opponent, Republican Ed Gillespie, has been a staunch advocate of keeping the controversial statues, arguing that removing them is an effort to “erase history.”

The effort Northam has made to appeal to Black voters seems to have worked, however. In the three Virginia cities with the largest African-American populations (Petersburg, Hampton City and Richmond), turnout surged in the recent Democratic primary compared to what it was in the 2009 gubernatorial primary, Politico reported. For instance, Northam won 72 percent of the vote in Petersburg this past June as turnout spiked 80 percent.

With just one day before election time, Black activists and locals like 20-year-old Kalen Gainer hope the upward trend continues.

“We need to keep everybody woke,” Gainer said.

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