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Most notably, they have so far failed to capture the attention of black voters, a key voting bloc that represents more than a quarter of Virginia’s Democratic electorate.

“It’s confusing,” said Phyllis Randall, who chairs the Loudoun County Supervisory Board and endorsed Senator Jennifer McClellan. “When you have that much talent and greatness in a person, it hasn’t come through.”

The washout is proof that, so far, Virginia’s Democratic primary voters have prioritized pragmatism over racial representation. McAuliffe has had a relationship with the Main Democrats since his departure four years ago and enjoys the support of the most influential black leaders in the Commonwealth.

Even as Virginia has become more Democratic, the party intends to make sure it keeps its grip on the governorship – something McAuliffe has already won once.

Some of those who support different McAuliffe alternatives have quietly suggested that the campaigns unite around a single candidate to counter the dominant lead of the front-runner. Most Democrats are reluctant to kiss Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in light of the sexual assault allegations. against him in 2019. But some see a way forward for the two black women in the race, McClellan and former Del State. Jennifer Carroll Foy, with a few progressives starting to rally around Carroll Foy.

McClellan has over a decade of experience in the State Senate and was instrumental in passing a bill protecting access to the vote, earning him the support of prominent donors. Democrats who backed Stacey Abrams’ race for governor. Georgia. Carroll Foy, for his part, is a former public defender and newcomer to state politics who has garnered support from Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and national organizations like EMILY’s List.

As the second-largest fundraiser, Carroll Foy supporters argue she has the best chance of taking on McAuliffe. At an event here earlier this week, Carroll Foy dismissed the early ballot as “premature.”

“Even in 2017, when I won my place and I changed a district from red to blue, [polls] didn’t give me as a winner, “she said.” Our message, our track record and our vision resonate with people. This is what really excites us. “

On the campaign trail, Carroll Foy marked out the left lane of the primary, emphasizing bring Virginia back to the future, rather than the past – a subtle allusion to McAuliffe as a standard-bearer of the party establishment who some liberals have not done as much as he could to low-income families and blacks and Latin American communities. The message is aimed in particular at young voters and parents, as well as black progressives who say they can see themselves reflected in both her candidacy and her personal story when they meet her.

“She looks like me,” Donyata Washington, a Carroll Foy supporter, said at a prospecting event here. “Most of our governors haven’t lived the lives of those who are underserved. You really can’t know what we’re going through if you’re not in our shoes.”

Virginia’s constitution doesn’t allow a governor to serve two consecutive terms – but McAuliffe would only be the second governor in history to serve the Commonwealth twice if he wins.

He has the most money to promote his campaign platform – more than the rest of the Democratic field combined – and the state’s most powerful leaders are on his side. Outgoing Governor Ralph Northam approved his candidacy, as did two validators with black voters: Charniele Herring, State House Majority Leader, and Acting Senate Speaker L. Louise Lucas, who are co-chairs of her campaign.

“I think of all [the candidates] are more than qualified to be performed and can possibly do the job. I just feel like Terry is going to be bigger and more daring, ”Del State said. Don Scott, a McAuliffe supporter whose district is in the heavily Black Hampton Roads area, echoing the campaign slogan.

Early voting began last week, and time is running out for McAuliffe’s opponents to derail his nomination. While no one has made a breakthrough to come close to McAuliffe, they note that around a third of voters in the polls say they are still undecided.

Quentin James, founder and chairman of the PAC Collective, an organization that supports running black candidates, said he could see a path for Carroll Foy or McClellan in the closing weeks of the primary. But, he added, it would take “a gigantic race change” to make this path clear. Instead of categorically endorsing just one candidate in the race, James said, the PAC Collective will donate $ 5,000 each. to the Carroll Foy and McClellan campaigns.

“The number of undecided ones right now, they could all break one way or another,” James said. “But I think you need a great time.”

And Carroll Foy sought to create the big moment herself, against all odds: She was at 5% according to a Christopher Newport University poll in April, with 78% of voters polled saying they had “no opinion. ” on her.

Although she has failed to gain traction, there are signs that she could become McAuliffe’s main opponent. Besides the frontrunner, Carroll Foy is the only other contender currently running TV commercials, injecting nearly half a million into the expensive DC market this week. She spent or reserved $ 771,000 in advertising, according to AdImpact – well below McAuliffe’s $ 2.2 million – while Fairfax and McClellan have yet to hit the airwaves.

Carroll Foy is also aggressively courting voters on social media, hosting social distancing in-person campaign events in the Commonwealth of Tidewater, and hosting listening sessions with black voters.

Black Democrats have also felt a shift in the Commonwealth: its voters are younger and more racially diverse than ever before, which helped secure control of the state legislature in 2017. After 2020, with its relies on race and the historic victories of the Senate in Georgia, black politicians are more optimistic about their chances of winning statewide elections.

The crowded primary, though celebrated by some as a sign of the party’s strength, also created tensions among lawmakers from black Commonwealth states – the majority of whom turned to support McAuliffe.

“[Young Black leaders] are a little frustrated, because they’re like, ‘You know, we wanted a black leader. This is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to give back to black women, ”said Del State. Josh Cole, who represents a majority white district and is Carroll Foy’s campaign chair. “Do not mistake yourself, [McAuliffe] has a platform. He has a message. But it’s nothing like having the person himself who has lived through the struggle to write policy, create policy, and run the state.

Progressives have been particularly critical of McAuliffe over his criminal record, saying some of his acts as governor of the past decade are not holding up well now. McAuliffe told the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg in 2015 that he “was always going to join forces with the police” on questions of public security. It came as he vetoed a bill that would have restricted the use of surveillance technology by law enforcement and angered some state activists, who have him. condemned as being too pro-police.

McAuliffe’s campaign highlights his decision to redirect $ 750,000 of federal funds from military-grade policing equipment to community policing initiatives as a sign that his relationship with law enforcement isn’t blindly making him in favor of increased police power. He also granted the right to vote to more than 170,000 people formerly incarcerated during their tenure, making him one of the only governors in the country to do so at the time. It sowed goodwill among black voters and criminal justice officials.

“I would put my criminal justice case against anyone in the country,” McAuliffe said in a recent interview during a campaign event in Alexandria.

Primaries can end late, giving some optimism to those who still believe it’s possible for Virginia to elect a black governor in 2021.

“I think it’s too early to count the candidates,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She The People, who did not approve of the race but supports the campaigns of McClellan and Carroll Foy. “We have seen time and time again that women of color motivate the Democratic base. And if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that money does not equal votes.

But unless something changes soon, the other candidates will likely see McAuliffe make their way as long as any opposition among black and progressive voters remains divided.

“They’re dividing the minority vote and the more liberal left-wing vote, and it’s almost impossible to beat McAuliffe,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and a longtime political observer in the United States. ‘state. “They pretty much condemned themselves to death.”

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