Democrats are targeting black voters in Virginia ahead of a closely watched gubernatorial race, sending top surrogates to spur voters as national trends show the group souring on President Joe Biden. President Joe Biden stands with Virginia democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe during a campaign event McAuliffe at Lubber Run Park, Friday, July 23, 2021, in Arlington, Va. Andrew Harnik/AP

Full court press in Virginia signals Democratic worries about Biden slippage with black voters

Katherine Doyle October 13, 07:00 AM October 13, 07:01 AM

Democrats are targeting black voters in Virginia ahead of a closely watched gubernatorial race, sending top surrogates to spur voters as national trends show the group souring on President Joe Biden.

“Turnout is going to be very important,” said pollster and Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, pointing to party efforts in the state targeting heavily African American areas where Biden won the 2020 presidential election by large margins.

Recent polling by Pew Research Center shows Biden’s approval rating with black voters falling 18 percentage points nationally to 67% since July, prompting concerns among Democrats as the Virginia race tightens.

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A Wason Center poll between Sept. 27-Oct. 1 shows former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe confronting an enthusiasm gap in the state, where he is locked in a tight race against Republican Glenn Youngkin. McAuliffe’s lead has collapsed by more than half since August.

According to the survey, Republican-likely voters lead their Democratic counterparts 61% to 55%, with respondents stating they are “very enthusiastic” about casting a ballot in the Nov. 2 race.

The Democratic Party is trying to narrow this, leveraging a cast of boldfaced Democratic Party names to stump for McAuliffe over the coming weeks in places where the Democratic candidate’s support is strongest.

First lady Jill Biden on Friday will travel to Henrico County outside of Richmond, where 64% voted for Biden compared to 35% who supported former President Donald Trump. On Sunday, Stacey Abrams will lead a “souls to the polls” event in Norfolk, which voted 72% to 26% for Biden. Both areas have significant black populations, according to U.S. Census data.

Later this month, former President Barack Obama will travel to Richmond. While Richmond County voted for Trump 62% to 37%, Richmond city voted for Biden 83% to 15%.

According to an August survey by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center, McAuliffe does best against Youngkin in the Richmond area, 48% to 40%; Hampton Roads, 52% to 41%; and in Northern Virginia, 59% to 33%. His support among black voters is 86%.

Like Biden, McAuliffe has lost ground with independents, dropping 3 percentage points to 41% since August. Youngkin has gained 11 percentage points, with 50% support among the group.

Biden’s challenges with black voters and other groups who typically vote for Democrats, now a national trend, could prove perilous for McAuliffe if Democrats fail to rouse enough support.

“We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know. The president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we got to plow through,” McAuliffe said last week during a private call with supporters.

Biden won the 2020 presidential election in Virginia by 10 percentage points against former President Donald Trump and stumped for McAuliffe this summer. But the former governor’s comments suggest he no longer views Biden as a boost.

Bannon said the logjam over Biden’s agenda is hurting Democrats in Virginia and other states.

“African American voters and young voters are frustrated that there hasn’t been more action from Congress on Build Back Better,” said Bannon, referring to Biden’s signature legislative proposals.

Black voters have been one of the most reliable Democratic voting blocs for decades. But even a minor erosion of support could spell problems for Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. Trump won nearly 1 in 5 black men last year, according to exit polls, though black women largely remained steadfast for Biden.

While McAuliffe currently leads Youngkin by 4 percentage points with likely voters, 49% to 45%, according to Wason’s survey, this number has narrowed by more than half in recent weeks. McAuliffe held a 9 percentage point advantage over Youngkin in late August, 50% to 41%.

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The Democrat’s lead now falls within the poll’s plus or minus 4.2 percentage point margin of error. The survey sampled 802 registered Virginia voters who are likely to vote in the general election.

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