It’s All About Turnout: Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Rev Up Their Bases

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Having closed the gap with Ralph Northam with all sorts of racial dog whistles, Ed Gillespie’s now herding his voters to the polls. Photo: Steve Helber/AP

As Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie go through the final, frenzied phases of their gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia, nobody seems that interested in persuading swing voters. As is often the case in non-presidential elections, which usually have lower turnout, it’s all about getting the most reliable voters to the polls. And that means throwing a ton of red meat to the base.

Team Northam, which is trying to hold onto a lead that has palpably been shrinking throughout the general-election campaign, is focused on encouraging minority voters to show up and send a message not only to a Gillespie camp that has been blowing dog whistles to white racial fears and resentments for a good part of the campaign, but to Donald Trump. Gillespie, relying on his apparent momentum in the polls down the stretch, is doubling-down on racial resentment though his campaign is still blowing those dog whistles and hoping “the base” is outraged by a recent pro-Northam ad from a Latino group that seems to typecast GOP voters as racist rednecks.

Off of the airwaves, on the ground, there’s a lot more going on, as the Washington Post reports:

Democrat Ralph Northam’s campaign says it is fielding a historic army of staffers and volunteers who are working three times as many shifts and making more than twice as many calls and home visits to get out the vote than on the same weekend during the 2013 governor’s race.


Republican Ed Gillespie and his campaign had already knocked on doors 2.7 million times heading into the weekend and were expected to reach about twice as many as in 2013, said Garren Shipley, Virginia spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

The Democratic focus on turnout operations in its Northern Virginia stronghold may have already borne fruit in elevated early voting in that region (Virginia is a state that requires formal excuses for early absentee voting, which may still amount to an estimated 6 to 7 percent of the total vote). But Northam’s final drive has been endangered at least on the margins by late controversies over his position on “sanctuary cities,” which has been condemned by some progressive groups, and his alleged lack of support for African-American running mate Justin Fairfax (whose name was left off a mailer distributed by a union that opposed Fairfax’s position on a controversial pipeline project). An example of the last-minute back-and-forth is represented by a GOP flier aimed at African-American voters:

At his recent rallies in central and eastern Virginia, Gillespie has mostly emphasized economic, not cultural, themes, touting his proposal for an across-the-board 10 percent cut in state income taxes. But in keeping with its strategy of echoing Trump messages without mentioning Trump, Gillespie’s campaign is sending out mailers asking “the base” to turn out to thumb noses at those African-American national-anthem protesters:

Even in over-the-radar advertising, each candidate has focused resources on its regional strongholds, with Gillespie dominating ad spending in smaller southwest Virginia media markets while Northam holds an advantage in D.C.

If the race turns out to be very close, there’s one more last-minute variable: the weather. Forecasts show a cold front moving west to east across much of the state on Election Day, spreading rain, but no severe storms. If, of course, the two party bases are as fired up as both campaigns hope, a little rain won’t matter much. But it’s the sort of race where small things may add up.

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Rev Up Their Bases