An organization that mobilized black voters on behalf of Hillary Clinton in November plans to spend more than $1 million in Virginia to do similar work to support Democrats ahead of the November governor’s race.
Black Progressive Action Coalition said it plans to spend $600,000 on voter education, including 100 paid canvassers, to impress on African Americans the importance of casting a ballot to fight racism, end voter suppression and create good-paying jobs.
An affiliated political action committee plans to spend $500,000 on mailers and digital ads targeting black voters on behalf of the Democratic statewide ticket, including gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam.
The group, which organized voters in Florida and other battleground states in last year’s presidential race, sees Virginia as a testing ground ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections.
African American voters are feeling anxious in the wake of President Trump’s election and the violent white nationalist rally in August around a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, said organizers, who hope to channel that emotion to drive up typically anemic voter turnout in non-presidential elections.
“They feel under attack,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, adding that canvassers “will talk to them about where candidates stand on the issues, talk to them about importance of voting for candidates who will call out racism and white supremacy and talk to them about where candidates stand on the monuments.”
While many Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts already target African Americans, BlackPAC officials say they will concentrate on voters who aren’t likely to show up at the polls.
Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, has more monuments to the southern rebellion than any other state. They came under increased scrutiny after the day of clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville that left three people dead.
Northam says he personally wants to see Confederate statues moved to museums, and that Charlottesville was a wake-up call for a "tremendous" amount of hate and bigotry in society. He said Tuesday that if "these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues."
His Republican opponent Ed Gillespie says the statues should stay up with historical context to inform “healthy” discussions about Virginia’s past.
Black voters are key in Virginia. The make up roughly a fifth of the electorate, and they overwhelmingly supported incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in his slim victory in 2013.
BlackPAC is partnering with organizations that have spent years engaging black voters in Virginia, including the New Virginia Majority Project, local branches of the NAACP and the Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative in Hampton Roads.
“We are happy we have another voice, another engine to ensure full voter participation,” said interim NAACP president Derrick Johnson.
BlackPAC is the latest in a string of outside groups getting involved in Virginia, which has the nation’s only competitive statewide race this year.
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer's NextGen America and the political arms of Planned Parenthood and the Virginia League of Conservation voters are spending millions on field operations and other efforts to support Democrats.
On the Republican side, Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is spending millions on television ads and canvassers to turn out conservative voters.