In Virginia, black voters were already somewhat mobilized, thanks to Donald Trump and recent events in the state. In an August poll commissioned by BlackPAC, a progressive political action committee, 54 percent of black Virginians said they felt their communities were under assault, voicing high levels of racial anxiety in the wake of the white nationalist attacks in Charlottesville. They also were strongly anti-Trump and motivated to vote against him. Even still, at that point in the race, the Democratic ticket was underperforming with black voters relative to prior elections, threatening its viability in November. To counter this, BlackPAC recommended two actions: Speak directly to the economic and safety concerns of black communities, and speak directly to their racial anxiety, taking a strong, unambiguous stand against hate groups and discrimination.
Groups like BlackPAC did this, running ads that directly confronted racist messaging in the state. The candidate himself was more muddled. Northam took a stand against the state’s Confederate monuments but also condemned sanctuary cities and allowed a Democratic-affiliated group to print campaign mailers that omitted lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax, who is black. Still, the collective Democratic effort largely recognized that voters were frightened by developments in Virginia and angered by the rhetoric coming from the Republican campaign, which played to white racial fears. Those efforts were helped by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whose work to end felon disenfranchisement expanded the overall pool of black voters.