Two years ago, when a black-faced racist image emerged of the 1980s that appeared to include Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, the backlash was swift and severe. There were more and more calls for his resignation.
But in the end, the polls showed most voters said he shouldn’t step down – and some of his most steadfast support came from black voters in Virginia. He resisted the scandal and he is still at work.
There are now exactly two months until the Democratic primary elections which will most likely determine Northam’s successor, as the state has gone decidedly blue (the Democratic candidate there has won all 13 statewide elections since 2012). And once again, Virginia is emerging as a case study of the complexities surrounding the politics of race and power.
Northam, who continues to enjoy wide approval, especially from black voters, on Thursday endorsed Terry McAuliffe, a former governor of Virginia and one of two white candidates in a five-person Democratic field. McAuliffe directly preceded Northam in the Governor’s mansion and now wants to succeed him as well.
In a statement, Northam portrayed McAuliffe as a strong manager of the economy during his four years at the helm. “It is essential that our next governor has the plans and the experience to continue the fight to rebuild Virginia into a stronger, more equitable future,” he said. “This is why I am so proud to support Terry McAuliffe to be our next governor.”
A former banking executive, prolific Democratic fundraiser and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, McAuliffe was barred from running for re-election in 2017 because Virginia does not allow its governor to serve consecutive terms.
There have been few polls in this race, but McAuliffe is considered an undisputed leader, partly because of his formidable connections and resume, and partly because his challengers have similarities – albeit superficial ones – who might split their support. Aside from Lee Carter, a 33-year-old Navy veteran and member of the House of Delegates, the other three candidates – Jennifer McClellan, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Justin Fairfax – are black, younger than McAuliffe, and generally to his left.
Like Northam four years ago on the winding road of the Virginia election campaign, and Joe Biden last year in the presidential race, McAuliffe has deliberately outstripped his less established black opponents. He stressed his ties to the black elite in Virginia politics, and since the day he announced his candidacy, he has settled into the endorsements of black officials.
But on Tuesday, in a televised debate, McAuliffe faced attacks from a unified team of rivals, and things boiled over when Fairfax, the state’s lieutenant governor, slammed him for calling in 2019. upon the resignation of Fairfax. As Northam was embroiled in his own scandal, two women publicly accused Fairfax of sexual assault. Fairfax denied the allegations and, like the governor, managed to stay in office, mostly by simply moving on.
During the debate, Fairfax went all the way after McAuliffe, reminding voters of America’s long and shameful history of false accusations and white violence against black men.
“He treated me like George Floyd, he treated me like Emmett Till – no due process, immediately assumed my guilt,” Fairfax said. “I have a son and a daughter, and I don’t want my daughter to be assaulted; I don’t want my son to be falsely accused. And that’s the real world we live in. So we need to speak the truth to power, and we need to be very clear about the impact this has on people’s lives.
But even before that, Fairfax had partly undermined his own argument by pointing out that it wasn’t just McAuliffe: all of his Democratic rivals on stage had called on him to step down in 2019.
Besides, like the Times reporter Astead herndon observed on Twitter, “” what happened to me is like what happened to George Floyd and Emmett Till “is not something a living person can say.”
McClellan, a state senator, picked up on the theme of racial justice, but attacked McAuliffe for substantive political reasons. She said he had underfunded the state’s parole system as governor, and called him a laggard in the justice reform movement.
McAuliffe pushed back by stressing his order to restore the franchise to more than 200,000 felons in 2016, and said he supported equipping all police officers in the state with body cameras – two major goals of advocates of the civil rights.
So far, Fairfax has not been able to define his candidacy outside of the allegations against him, leading some close observers to anticipate that the next few weeks will be a face-to-face between McClellan and Carroll Foy. , a former state delegate. If either of these emerges as a clear alternative to McAuliffe, it would likely be because she has persuaded enough big funders to step out of the woodworking industry to support her campaign and provide much-needed advertising funds.
As a Virginia Democratic insider told me in a phone conversation Thursday, “McClellan has a track record to sell. Carroll Foy has a track record and an approach to selling. But if they only sell it on Twitter, Terry McAuliffe will be the candidate. “
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