Democrat Terry McAuliffe lost white voters to Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli by 20 points in the Virginia governor’s race, 56-36 percent.
But McAuliffe still won the election by 3 points, 48-45 percent. How is that possible when more than seven-in-10 (72 percent) of Virginia voters Tuesday were white?
Simple: Black voters.
McAuliffe won black voters by a 90-8 percent margin, a similar spread to the 93-6 percent President Barack Obama ran up in the 2012 presidential election in the Old Dominion.
Black voters also voted at a similar clip to the 2012 election. They made up 20 percent of voters, or one of every five people who went to the polls. That’s exactly the percentage of the electorate black voters made up for Obama in 2012 in Virginia.
What’s more, for all the discussion of women, the gender gap, and the millions of dollars in ads McAuliffe ran in Northern Virginia targeting women on the issue of abortion, it was really black women specifically that fueled that gap.
McAuliffe won women overall by a 51-42 percent margin. But he lost white women by 16 points (54-38 percent) and won black women by an astonishing 91-7 percent spread. They made up 11 percent of all Virginia voters. Black men voted at a similar margin as women, 90-9 percent, and made up a similar percentage of the electorate, 9 percent.
These margins resemble what black voters delivered for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 2009 Virginia race, but turnout was stronger, up 4 points.
Black voters turned out at exactly the percentage they make up of the overall population. But other key minority groups underperformed. Even though Latinos, who have grown four-fold since 1990 in Virginia, make up 8 percent of the population, they were just 4 percent of the electorate Tuesday, down from 5 percent in 2012. Asians make up 6 percent of the population, but were just 1 percent of Tuesday’s voters, down from 3 percent in 2012.
So why did black voters come out in the numbers they did? There are several possible explanations, but it starts with policy, especially Cuccinelli’s support for voter ID laws. Cuccinelli also opposed the president’s health-care law, entertained the notion that Obama won the presidential election because of voter fraud, questioned where Obama was born. All that made for Obama's base being fired up to defend their president. On top of all that, McAuliffe hired many of the old Obama campaign hands, who were able to specifically target black voters.
Black voters across the country have felt under siege by voter identification requirements, pushed by Republicans in the states. Cuccinelli supports those laws, including Virginia’s, and McAuliffe’s campaign made sure black voters knew about that.
“Registration, if you’re willing to lie, anybody can walk in and register to vote,” Cuccinelli told a conservative radio host a week after the 2012 election. “Yeah, I’m Mickey Mouse. Put me on the rolls. Here’s the address. Sure, I’m a citizen. It is so simple. And then you’ve got voter identification and at least [in Virginia] you’ve got to show something.”
Having Obama’s back
Some have suggested that President Obama being in the state for McAuliffe in the final days before the election may have hurt the Democrats’ margin of victory because of the president’s struggling approval ratings. But that’s not the case for black voters, a key plank of the Democratic coalition. They continue to strongly back the president, the first African American to hold the office.
Black voters have felt like Obama has been under constant attack from an intransigent opposition. And, just a year removed from his historic reelection, the president finds himself at the lowest point of his presidency. It’s when he most needs his base.
First Lady Michelle Obama drove that point home in an ad she cut for McAuliffe that aired in predominately black Hampton Roads.
"We all worked so hard last year to re-elect Barack as president,” she says in the ad, “and whether it’s building good schools, or creating good jobs, or ensuring women can make their own decisions about their health, the issues we were fighting for then matter just as much in Virginia today. … This election will be close, and every vote counts, so I hope I can count on you to make your voice heard for Terry McAuliffe.”
Cuccinelli, who took the Affordable Care Act to the Supreme Court, touted that in his gubernatorial bid in an attempt to turnout conservatives. It very well may have accomplished that, but it also may have helped turn out black voters, who are strongly supportive of Obama and the law, in part, because it is so closely tied to the president’s legacy.
Cuccinelli has also entertained birtherism, questioning where the president was born. “Someone is going to have to come forward with nailed down testimony that he was born in place B, wherever that is,” Cuccinelli said in April. “You know, the speculation is Kenya. And that doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility.”
And Cuccinelli even suggested that he agreed that Obama won the 2012 election, including Virginia, because of voter fraud.
Though he later walked back those comments, they left a mark with black voters.
Obama turnout team/Obama appearance
The McAuliffe campaign hired some of the same people from the Obama 2012 Virginia team to target voters and get them out to the polls.
As to be expected in an off-year election, black voters – like all other groups -- did not turn out with in the raw numbers they did in 2012. But McAuliffe with the help of the former Obama campaign team got them to be the same percentage of the electorate and delivered the same margins, which was always the goal.
Impact in New Jersey
Black voters also made an impact in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) won an overwhelming reelection victory with 60 percent of the vote and 21 percent of the black vote.
In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won just 4 percent of black voters.
That helped Christie run up his margin. He and his team have been pointing to that broad-based victory as evidence of the roadmap forward for Republicans to win.
But when Christie was matched up with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the New Jersey exit polls showed Clinton winning narrowly 48 to 44 percent.
What made the difference? In large measure -- black voters.
Against Clinton in a presidential race, Christie’s support with those black voters nosedived – from 20 percent to 5 percent.
And that doesn’t take into account how many fewer black voters showed up from key North Jersey counties than did in 2012. They made up 15 percent of the electorate, down 3 points from the 2012 presidential election.