Democrats in Va. Governor Primary Shape Campaigns to Hook Large Black Electorate

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 27, 2009

RICHMOND -- The three Democrats running for Virginia governor have launched aggressive campaigns to woo the state's African American voters -- a constituency that will play a crucial role in the party's first contested gubernatorial primary battle in more than three decades.

Among the first campaign aides hired were consultants touting their ability to reach black audiences. The first ads aired on black radio. R. Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran have been jamming their campaign schedules with appearances in heavily populated black communities -- mostly in Richmond and Hampton Roads.

And each is tailoring a message to resonate with African Americans -- talking up proposals to increase the number of minority-owned businesses, combat childhood obesity. Moran and Deeds have also touted stacks of endorsements from well-known black leaders -- although one major endorsement remains to be captured. All three candidates have made personal visits to the office of L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor.

The reason for all this outreach can be boiled down to numbers.

"What bigger group is there?" asked David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and an expert on national black electoral politics. "You're going to see a lot of effort to attract black voters in the primary. If [a candidate] can catch on, that would give them a big edge."

About 80 percent of African Americans identify themselves as Democrats. Even those who call themselves independents generally vote for Democratic candidates.

Last year, about 30 percent of the nearly 1 million people who turned out for Virginia's historic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were black, as were about 20 percent of Virginia voters in November's general election.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said more African Americans might go to the polls this year because they remain energized months after the nation elected its first black president.

"The candidate who is best able to tap into that latent energy is going to be the candidate who gets the African American vote," he said.

None of three candidates is the clear favorite among black voters. But each is crafting elaborate plans to get those voters to the polls June 9.

Black voters interviewed at candidate forums in recent weeks said they are looking for a candidate who will help small businesses flourish, create jobs and increase money for public education.

Carl Eggleston, a longtime Democratic activist from Prince Edward County, traveled to Richmond last week to listen to the candidates answer questions from members of the civil rights group Crusade for Voters. Eggleston said he has known Moran and Deeds for more than a decade but is just getting familiar with McAuliffe, a newcomer to state politics.

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