One simple statistic highlights the folly of much of the Democratic Party’s strategy and spending. If every person of color who voted for Hillary Clinton in Virginia last year turns out to vote in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest on November 7, Democrat Ralph Northam could win without getting a single vote from a white person. Not one. And yet most Democratic strategists and donors overlook and undervalue voters of color in general and African-American voters in particular. As a result, Democrats are at real risk of losing eminently winnable contests in Virginia this year, as well as in myriad races in 2018.
In my book, Brown Is the New White, I titled one of the chapters “Blinded by the White” to bring attention to the reality that “much of the progressive movement and many progressive campaigns are still dominated by White leadership, fixated on White voters.” Since the last presidential election, this pattern has continued unabated with nearly all progressive attention focused on the white working-class voters who supported Trump in large numbers.
For all the analyses offered about the behavior of these voters in 2016, you hear almost nothing about the tactical and strategic decisions that led to the cataclysmic collapse of black-voter turnout. Of the first $200 million allocated by progressive outside groups for spending in 2016, zero dollars were directed to African-American voter mobilization. Zero. Despite the availability of multiple inspiring leaders of color in the mold of Barack Obama, the Clinton campaign opted to return to the days of fielding an all-white presidential ticket. In facing a Republican nominee whose candidacy was propelled by white racial fears and anxieties, the Democratic strategy was to largely ignore the racism and focus instead on Trump’s temperament. In the face of such neglect and disinterest, many black voters showed less interest in the election, and turnout plummeted to the lowest level in almost 20 years. A higher percentage of black voters turned out to vote for John Kerry than did for Hillary Clinton, and that precipitous decline cost her the pivotal states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—and, as a result, the White House.
Rather than heeding last year’s wake-up call, Democrats continue to perpetuate this pattern of structural racism and implicit bias. Take the upcoming election in Virginia—a quadrennial political bellwether because it takes place the year after each presidential election. Smart electoral strategy should be predicated on empirical evidence and hard data, and the data in Virginia clearly illuminates the path to victory for Democrats. In off-year elections, turnout usually drops dramatically, lowering the threshold needed to secure a majority of the vote. Current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe won the governor’s mansion in 2013 with about 1.1 million votes. It is the presidential elections that show the true size of the pool of progressive voters, and Clinton won nearly 2 million votes in Virginia last year. According to the exit polls, 53 percent of the Virginians who supported Clinton—1,047,518 voters—were people of color. That’s more than all of the people who backed the 2013 Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, whose campaign garnered 1,013,354 votes.