With Election Day now less than three months away, Virginia gubernatorial candidates are ramping up their grassroots, get-out-the-vote efforts.
Both the Republican and Democratic campaigns are making strides to reach voters in every corner of the state through digital and in-person electioneering, a method that was impacted last year by the coronavirus pandemic.
With polls showing a tight race between GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, mobilizing voters from the ground up could make the difference.
Bob Holsworth, a longtime Virginia political analyst, said garnering grassroots support is crucial in statewide races because of lessened voter turnout.
“There’s a turnout differential that can really help one party or the other,” Mr. Holsworth said. “So, the grassroots groups that can mobilize their voters and get them out are really important in this kind of election.”
The Youngkin campaign has recruited more than 4,800 volunteers to engage in phone banking, go door-to-door, and reach voters through online methods such as social media.
Volunteers for the Republican are focusing their messaging on public safety and education, as well as the first-time candidate’s business background.
The political director for the Youngkin campaign told The Washington Times that their top campaign focus is utilizing supporters’ own communities to spread news about Mr. Youngkin’s initiatives.
“We fundamentally believe that the most effective way to inform, mobilize, and persuade a voter is through a neighbor telling another neighbor how they’re going to vote, and then asking them to join,” the director said.
The Virginia Democratic Party is also working on mobilizing voters for Mr. McAuliffe, who served as the state’s governor from 2014 to 2018.
The state party is working on outreach efforts toward Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans in hopes of expanding its base to turn out for the candidate.
In addition to texting and phone campaigns and in-person canvassing, organizers are emphasizing early voting and mail-in voting to mobilize people to cast their ballot early.
“Virginians are excited to vote this fall for Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats for their commitment to creating good-paying jobs, making health care more affordable, and giving every Virginia child a world-class education,” said Manuel Bonder, DPVA spokesman.
The latest poll on the race shows Mr. McAuliffe slightly leading his challenger.
A survey by Conservatives for Clean Energy conducted by co/efficient found that Mr. McAuliffe had 45% of voter support, compared to Mr. Youngkin’s 40%. Another 13% were undecided while 2% supported Libertarian candidate Princess Blanding.
Mr. McAuliffe is leading in support from urban voters 61% to 32% and women 53% to 35%, while Mr. Youngkin is leading men 45% to 37% and rural voters 59% to 28%.
The Democratic nominee, however, also leads suburban voters 51% to 30%. Suburban voters are a highly coveted group by both campaigns due to their tendency to swing back and forth on their party support.
The poll was conducted between July 25-27 and surveyed 762 likely voters, with a margin of error of 3.55%.
Still, turnout in Virginia’s gubernatorial races remains low in comparison to presidential elections.
The last election in 2017 saw more than 2.6 million votes cast, compared to 4.4 million votes cast in the 2020 presidential election, which saw historic turnout nationwide.
Mr. Holsworth said Democrats have to work to keep suburban voters who may come out on an anti-Trump vote against the GOP, while also mobilizing Black communities to vote.
Mr. Youngkin’s campaign, on the other hand, has also been vying to win over the suburbs by responding to some parents’ concerns of education, including the introduction of critical race theory curricula.
One other demographic both campaigns may seek out is the youth vote, though younger voters have historically leaned liberal.
“Each side will make an effort to reach younger voters. There’s College Republicans and groups like that,” Mr. Holsworth said. “But given the fact that younger voters tilt so heavily toward the Democrats, it’s more important for them to try to ensure that the turnout slippage from the presidential race is not that dramatic.”
Election Day is Nov. 2.
• Mica Soellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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