In political campaigns, white candidates can always find a black guy. It’s literally Campaign 101: Most successful white American candidates know that in order to show that you are an open-minded progressive candidate—or to signal that you’re a horrible racist but some black people still like you—you have to find a black guy.
After centuries of black erasure, today’s white candidates know that you must be seen talking to, shaking hands with, dapping or dabbing with some random black person in a commercial, at a rally or in a poster for symbolic purposes.
Even Donald Trump knows that.
Apparently Democrats in Virginia don’t. The state party agreed to snatch African-American lieutenant-governor candidate Justin Fairfax off of a campaign flyer and to feature only the white statewide candidates. Then the party turned around and blamed Fairfax for his own removal. Proving once again that no matter how supportive black people are of them, these Democratic pols ain’t loyal.
Ralph Northam is the Democratic candidate in November’s gubernatorial election in Virginia. He’s maintained a consistent but narrow lead over Republican Ed Gillespie. Justin Fairfax, the African-American Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, has been leading his opponent in the polls, raising money like a living GoFundMe account and causing temper tantrums among angry racist white women everywhere.
Fairfax has brought former President Barack Obama down to campaign with him, and in a state that is 20 percent African American, the enthusiasm for his campaign likely will help up- and down-ballot Democratic races. But again, as we’ve seen in Georgia, Ohio and other states, being twice as good isn’t enough if you’re a black Democrat.
Angry voters in Virginia have been posting photos of a campaign flyer being distributed in Northern Virginia that features Democratic statewide candidates Northam and attorney general candidate Mark Herring—but no Fairfax. Fairfax was on previous flyers, but with only three weeks out, why would he be left off now ? Was it a simple communications error between campaigns? Did Kinkos run out of brown ink just before printing time? Northam campaign spokesperson David Turner downplayed the missing candidate and claimed that the Fairfax team “agreed” to be taken off of flyers being distributed in some parts of Northern Virginia.
Why would the Fairfax campaign not want to be on a flyer in the most diverse and affluent part of Virginia? This version of events hasn’t been confirmed or backed up by the Fairfax campaign, on or off the record. Virginia Democrats need more people, specifically black people.
Turns out that the real reason Justin Fairfax’s image got left on the cutting room floor is about money and, of course, race.
“This is all about LIUNA,” said a Virginia campaign activist who wished to remain anonymous. “And the fact that the Virginia Democrats don’t have a plan for black voters.”
The Democrat-leaning LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America) desperately wants two new natural gas pipelines built in Virginia that will create jobs across the state. Northam favors the pipeline. Herring favors the pipeline. Fairfax, a staunch environmentalist, has argued that impact studies should be done before pipelines of this magnitude are built.
Apparently, in this age of draining the swamp and Democrats trying to reclaim their collective souls from corporate money, taking a principled stand on the environment doesn’t sit well with LIUNA. According to several Virginia campaign operatives, LIUNA has refused to distribute any flyers that have Fairfax’s image on them. The fact that the organization has given over $600,000 to the Virginia Democratic Party and the Northam campaign makes it easier for it to steamroll Fairfax. Unfortunately, this is where petty turns from a problem to prejudice.
Candidates and funders have disagreements all the time. There are pro-life Democrats; there are environmentally concerned Republicans. Smart political organizations, unions and activists realize that you compromise when it comes to putting your money behind somebody.
It would be one thing for LIUNA to print its own flyers that didn’t include Justin Fairfax. It would be petty, but it wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen in politics. It would be another thing if the state Democratic Party and the Northam campaign said, “Hey, we’re running a statewide ticket, so we’re not going to produce materials that don’t show everyone,” which would have solved the problem. Instead, Virginia Democrats agreed to freeze out the only African-American statewide candidate over one issue—and, to make matters worse, lie to reporters by stating that Team Fairfax signed off on being cut from their own party’s campaign materials.
In order to not start a public spat, the Fairfax campaign has said nothing; but how many times can Democrats keep pulling this “I love you but I’m not IN love with you” game with black voters and candidates before the breakup is permanent? This kind of campaign prejudice is lost on no one, and state activists are calling out the Democratic Party right when unity is the best course of action.
Black candidates are in this bind all over the country: Run as a Democrat and you compete against two parties—Republicans and white Democrats—both of whom seem intent on using black people as a symbolic wedge or voting cattle, but not as equal partners in the governing process. Chances are Northam and Virginia Democrats will patch this up before the story moves from 24-hour blip to 72-hour tsunami, but this never should have happened to begin with.
For some reason, when it comes to African-American candidates, the basic rules of party loyalty, organization and strategy don’t seem to apply.
This is a governor’s election, not a junior high sleepover. No one should be getting removed from flyers or having their image blocked over one issue, when obtaining state power is the overall goal. The Democratic “resistance” can’t happen without black voters, black fundraising and black organizers; if Democrats can’t even figure out how to keep black statewide candidates on campaign materials, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.