Across the aisle, Black women are saying they want more representation: â€œWe are not a monolith.â€�
Virginia voters on Tuesday will make history by electing the commonwealthâ€™s first woman of color lieutenant governor: Democrat Hala Ayala, who is Afro-Latina, or Republican Winsome Sears, who is Black.
But for many Black women voters â€“ who have arguably the most to gain in terms of winning more representation in the statehouse and executive branch â€“ making history isnâ€™t the main draw in this election. Theyâ€™re focused on the dead-heat race for governor.
Lieutenant governor â€œis more of a symbolic role,â€� whose main job is to cast tie-breaking votes, Kelly Hebron, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee Black Caucus told theGrio. The battle for the governorâ€™s mansion is â€œwhatâ€™s going to matter most.â€�
Vying for the top job are Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who served as Virginiaâ€™s governor from 2014 to 2018, and Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin, a private equity executive who is running as a political outsider.
Black women typically lean heavily Democrat. In 2020, about 90% of Black women nationally chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump. And Black women voters in Virginia played a major role in the push for Bidenâ€™s 10-point victory in the swing state.
Turnout among Black women voters will play a key role in determining whether McAuliffe returns to the role or Youngkin flips the seat red, according to many political experts.
Last month, McAuliffeâ€™s campaign lined up a star-studded cast of prominent Black lawmakers and celebrities to join the Democrat on stage, including voting rights activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Vice President Kamala Harris, singer Pharrell Williams and former President Barack Obama.
Several Black Democratic women are concerned that support but not enthusiasm for McAuliffe could lead to lower turnout, possibly enough to give the edge to Youngkin.
Hebron, who is the chair of the Lee District Democrats, a group based in Fairfax, Virginia, said â€œthereâ€™s a sense of resolveâ€� among Black women voters toward the ticket.
Enthusiasm for McAuliffe started to drop after the Democratic primary in June, she said. A lot of Black voters would have preferred other Democratic primary candidates such as Jennifer Carroll Foy of Petersburg, who is Black, to get the gubernatorial nomination, Hebron said. Foy came second in the primary, losing to McAuliffe by 40 percentage points.
Hebron said that by clinching the nomination, McAuliffe was sending a message that heâ€™d be the only one among Foy and other candidates like incumbent Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is Black, to beat Youngkin in the general election.
â€œBut you want the Black vote,â€� she said of McAuliffe.
Sherry Street, who is Black and plans to vote for Youngkin on Tuesday, told theGrio that she thinks that â€œDemocrats often take Black votes for granted.â€�
A lot of Black Virginians who support Youngkin arenâ€™t broadcasting it because they want to keep their politics private, said Street, a school-choice lobbyist.
Street, a former Democrat, said she voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. She said Trump attempted to win Black voters. â€œHe supported us. He asked us for our vote.â€�
But Street was among only a few Black women in a crowd of a couple hundred people who gathered on a street corner to see Youngkin at a bus tour stop at the Old Town Farmersâ€™ Market in deep-blue Alexandria, Virginia, on a crisp Saturday morning.
The Representation Question
Sears, an immigrant from Jamaica, would be the first Black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia, but many Black women voters say she doesnâ€™t represent their community.
Representation is not â€œjust about putting a Black face in office,â€� said Deborah Woolen, 44, of Fairfax County. Itâ€™s about electing someone with â€œshared experience.â€�
Woolen, a civil service commissioner, is Black. She said sheâ€™s voting Democrat in every race on the ballot because she believes the Republican party post-Trump has become oppressive. She said doesnâ€™t get how Sears, the GOP lieutenant governor candidate, can stand to be associated with a party that had Trump as its leader.
Woolen was especially turned off by a campaign ad that pictured Sears posing with an assault rifle. She said it triggered negative emotions for â€œa significant amountâ€� of other Black women she knows whoâ€™ve been affected by gun violence.
Woolen said she wants to more state policies such as a law that bans police from using no-knock warrants, pushed to the forefront. Petersburg Del. Lashrecse Aird, who is Black, sponsored the bill, and Woolen said sheâ€™d like to see more women of color like Aird in power.
Winsome Sears â€œis not that,â€� she said.
But Annetta Catchings, the Black woman running for mayor of Alexandria as a Republican, said the Black community is pulling away from the narrative that â€œif youâ€™re Republican, youâ€™re not for the Black cause.â€�
The Black community isnâ€™t as much of a monolith as it used to be, said the mother of two.
Catchings doesnâ€™t believe sheâ€™s turning her back on her community, and she doesnâ€™t feel a need to convince people otherwise. â€œI know what I represent,â€� she said.
Hebron, however, is â€œoffendedâ€� by those who stand with a party that wants to remove Toni Morrisonâ€™s Beloved, a book about slavery and African American history, from Virginiaâ€™s classrooms.
For her and other Black women Democrats, everythingâ€™s at stake: abortion rights, continued mask mandates, support for Black Lives Matter and the chance for their children to get a good education. â€œAnd I donâ€™t want it to be based on zip code.â€�
Hebron said sheâ€™ll take her daughters, who are 11 and 13, with her when she votes on Tuesday. She brings them with her to the polls every year because she wants them to see voting â€œas a habit and community obligation.â€�
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