Progressive organizations scrambled over the weekend to give Democrats a boost in Tuesday's New Jersey and Virginia elections by rallying against Republican candidates who used ads linking gang crimes to Democratic candidates and immigration policies.
The race for governor in Virginia between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie has been of particular focus by election watchers. While polls show Northam ahead, a late push by Ed Gillespie advertising racially charged messages tying immigration to the notorious Central American gang, MS-13, and pronouncing his support to keep Confederate statues in their place have made the contest too close for comfort for Northam. Several polls have Gillespie tied with Northam, and one recent poll has Gillespie up by three points.
Organizations such as CASA in Action, America's Voice, and others have been focusing on Latino voters in Virginia, knocking door to door trying to remind Hispanics to vote on Tuesday. In a press release issued by Prospero Latino, the coalition of organizations claims to have knocked on fifty thousand doors and have texted over twenty thousand voters.
"The Virginia GOP and Ed Gillespie have run one of the most vile and anti-immigrant campaigns that we have ever seen in the commonwealth," said in a statement Julio Lainez, state director for America's Voice, an organization that advocates for liberal immigration policies. "As a Virginian, I am appalled by the vitriol and dog whistles that have been used to demonize our hard-working immigrant community."
Democrats in Virginia will rely on a coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and progressive whites. While people of color made up thirty-three percent of the electorate in Virginia in last year's Presidential election, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by five percentage points.
However, "off-year" elections make it much more difficult for Democrats to turnout minority voters, because they tend to have fewer resources. One of the more difficult tasks in polling is predicting who will turn out to vote on election day.
Early voting returns by county offer some positive signs for these organizations. Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida and an expert on voter turnout, analyzed early returns and highlighted Latino-heavy Manassas Park and Manassas City producing the largest percent increases of any Virginia localities when compared to the last off-year election in 2013. According to McDonald, Manassas City is 223 percent higher, and Manassas Park is 205 percent higher, relative to 2013.
Unlike Virginia, the election for governor in New Jersey between Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno appears to be less uncertain, though turnout is not expected to be high. Murphy shows a double-digit lead in every poll and statistics guru Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight doesn't give Guadagno much of chance for victory, but he cautions that gubernatorial races can be "quirky".
Guadagno is Lieutenant Governor under Governor Chris Christie, who is one of the most unpopular governors of the modern era, according to Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight. Guadagno, whose running mate for lieutenant governor is Cuban American Carlos Rendo, also used an ad about an MS-13 gang crime against her Murphy.
In an interview with NBC News, Kevin Brown, the New Jersey state director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to educate members to get out and vote. New Jersey has the nation's seventh largest Latino voter population; about 14 percent of the state's eligible voters are Hispanic.
"I think there is an attempt to divide people, black and Latino and white and and native born and immigrant. It may have worked for Donald Trump, not in the popular vote but electoral college, but it’s not going to work for Guadagno in New Jersey", said Brown.
Many expect the national unfavorability of President Trump, which continues to fall, to be a major influence in the vote against Guadagno, and organizations like SEIU are doing what he can to make sure Trump's low favorability is associated with Guadagno's name.
Whether or not Donald Trump will drag statewide candidates down is perhaps the biggest question of this week's elections, but there is as much concern over the impact Trump will have on voter turnout among minority groups.
In Virginia, some progressive leaders have questioned whether Northam should have responded more aggressively to Gillespie's racial messages on Confederate statues and Salvadoran crime gangs and directly appealed more to minority voters.
Latino Victory Fund, a liberal non-profit organization, ran their own ad, which drew controversy; they attacked Gillespie's Confederate message by showing an of children of different ethnicities running from an ominous looking truck flying the Confederate flag. Latino Victory eventually pulled the ad following the attack in Manhattan where an assailant used a truck to kill nine people.