Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.
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Reprinted with permission from PressRun
Sticking close to the media's preferred script, Axios this week reported that the walls were caving in on Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who's caught in a surprisingly close race in Virginia's governor's race. "It was clear the McAuliffe campaign has taken on an air of tension — bordering on panic," Axios announced.
Proof of the "panic" attack? "McAuliffe cut off one television interview last week," the outlet claimed. That seems like thin confirmation, considering candidates juggle media interviews all the time. Plus, the Democratic candidate did no such thing — he agreed to a 10-minute interview with a local Sinclair TV station and actually gave them 11 minutes.
Is McAuliffe's campaign in a state of "panic"? Axios provided no tangible evidence that it is. But the press seems to be rooting for a Democratic loss in Virginia, so the "panic" claim gets widely aired. Eager to portray Joe Biden's presidency as on the verge of collapse, the press is excitedly pushing the governor's race across the Potomac as a potentially cataclysmic event for the entire Democratic Party.
"Virginia's gubernatorial election is more important than ever as a national barometer" a CNN headline announced this month. What CNN and everyone else covering the race means is that if Democrats lose, the Virginia race will function as a national barometer. If Republicans lose, it won't mean a thing. Note there's a governor's race in New Jersey this year as well, and a Democrat is expected to win with ease. For some reason, that's not a "barometer" of anything.
What's happening in Virginia is the press is taking its beloved Dems in Disarray storyline out for a spin and ceaselessly stressing what a political disaster it would be if McAuliffe lost.
"It could trigger an all-out panic in the party" CNN warned. A Democratic loss would send "shockwaves that would rip through the White House." It would "swell doubts about Biden's own political authority."
Question: Do you remember this kind of breathless, what-if coverage in advance of the Georgia run-off elections in January, when Republicans faced the prospect of losing two U.S. Senate seats in a red state? I don't. In fact, much of the Beltway media simply assumed Republicans would prevail. Right after the November election, journalists covered Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as if he were the 2021 Senate Majority Leader, because of course Republicans would win in Georgia.
"How a Biden Presidency and McConnell-Led Senate Might Actually Get Along," read a Politico headline last November, even though we had no idea if there would be a McConnell-led Senate this year.
Today, CNN insists "a Democratic defeat in what has become a reliably blue state over the last decade would be impossible to ignore and would cause political headaches for Democrats that reach beyond the Biden presidency." But when Republicans lost not one but two races in a reliably red state in January, the press did not obsessively dissect the long-term implications for the GOP or Trump.
Note that we just saw this same type of premature, doomsday coverage with the California governor's recall vote. For months, the press insisted the polls were closer than they should be for a blue state, and then mapped out what all the catastrophic effects would be for the Democratic Party if Gavin Newsom were defeated. (Basically, it would mean the end of the Biden presidency, according to lots of pundits.) In the end though, the recall vote was an embarrassment for the GOP, which lost by 30 points.
Faced with that reality, the press quickly moved on to the Virginia contest, never acknowledging it had misread the California race for months. Even after Newsom's landslide win, CNN's Kasie Hunt went on Twitter and claimed the contest represented a loss for Democrats.
Caveat: I have no idea who's going to win in Virginia next Tuesday, and neither does a single reporter, editor, or producer covering the race. My point isn't about the eventual winner or loser. It's how the press is gleefully putting its thumb on the scale and producing hysterical, sky-is-falling coverage that would be more fitting for a Democratic trailing by 15 points, not one who is leading or tied in 23 of the last 24 polls, as McAuliffe is.
In Virginia, the press remains committed to presenting the campaign through a specific, Republican prism. Politico recently announced McAuliffe is "losing ground," when the polls have been remarkably consistent for months. In a recent page-one report from Virginia, the Times quoted five Republicans and just one Democrat. Days later, the Times published another front-page Virginia dispatch, claiming Democratic voters are apathetic about the race. Left out of the article was any mention of a CBS News poll at the time which found early voters favored McAuliffe by 24 points.
The Wall Street Journal also tried to lean into the idea of apathy, stressing that early voting in the Commonwealth is down dramatically from the 2020 election, causing "heartburn" among Democrats. But 2020 was a presidential campaign when turn-out was high. The last time there was an off-year governor's race in Virginia was 2017, and early voting this year is up dramatically over 2017 — so much for the "apathy" narrative.
What's receiving a fraction of the coverage is the fact that the leader of the GOP basically isn't allowed within the borders of Virginia before Tuesday's vote because party strategists understand that a public appearance by Trump, and especially one of his incoherent rallies, would likely end the GOP's chances in a state with a large population of educated suburban voters.
It's an astonishing state of affairs — imagine if Democrats were terrified about Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris campaigning in Virginia. Yet Trump's toxicity is politely overlooked in the campaign coverage. Of course, if Republicans do pull off a Virginia win, the press will rush to credit Trump.
For Democrats, it's head you lose, tails you lose.
Reprinted with permission from Alternet
After 2020's election, Virginia adopted more pro-voter legislation than any state, from expanding access to starting to amend its constitution to enshrine voting rights. But these reforms have not been enough to turn out voters in this fall's statewide elections, where the top-of-the-ticket Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are close in polls but seen as underwhelming.
"The college-educated voters, predominantly in northern Virginia, are not turning out to vote, at least early in this election," said Andrea Miller, whose Virginia-based Center for Common Ground has successfully worked in many Southern states in recent cycles to motivate voters of color to turn out. "We feel there is a lack of interest, especially at the top of the ticket."
Virginia is one of two states electing a governor, constitutional officers, legislators, and local officials on November 2. There are 1.2 million Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters across the state whom Miller is trying to reach via a mix of postcards, texts, phone banks and door knocking. But by October 21, only 66,000 of those people had voted, according to the public data she tracks.
Statewide, TargetSmart, a political data firm, reported that 655,000 voters had voted early in the state as of October 25. In contrast, in 2020's presidential election, 2.8 million people voted early. (The figures from 2019 are not comparable, because voting early was very restricted.)
While political parties tend to elevate suburban voters, Miller's focus is elsewhere: in cities and rural areas where voters whom political insiders do not expect to turn out reside. Notably, the counties where voters of color have seen the highest percentages of early voting this fall are in corners of the state away from Washington, where Miller has campaigned on local, not national, issues.
"We've got a democracy center in Roanoke. That's southwest Virginia, almost in Appalachia," she said. "Roanoke has the second-highest Black turnout—compared to its voting population. And why are they so successful? Because they started with the community's pain points."
"One of the pain points for that very poor community was food insecurity," Miller said. "So that's where they started off. They bought baskets and put food in them. And people who came to get the food baskets told their neighbors. And when they held their first event, they showed the 'Summer of Soul' [film] on the wall of their building. They listened to what they said about voting. They gave them palm cards that showed them what they were voting for. And people signed up to volunteer and canvass."
Miller's palm cards don't mention the governor's race. At the top of the ticket, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking reelection, has been railing against his opponent as a Donald Trump clone. His Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, has attacked McAuliffe as a liberal who will poison public school children with a politically correct agenda. In contrast to these clichés, Miller's palm cards say, "Vote Your Issue" and cite a monthly child care allowance, ending gun violence, and prison reform, and "Vote Your Power" and cite restoring ex-felons' voting rights, addressing homelessness, and providing free internet access.
Elections in nonpresidential years always have lower voter turnout than nationwide contests. But there is more going on in Virginia than an election that political analysts have characterized as a rehearsal for 2022's elections, which include congressional and many statewide races. How the Center for Common Ground is approaching community outreach and organizing stands in contrast to the gubernatorial campaigns, which have relied on nationally known figures.
The center's approach to finding and reaching voters who are not on any party's map were successful in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs in January 2021, where tens of thousands of infrequent voters of color turned out across that state—not just in metro Atlanta. The center identifies counties where "missing voters" live, meaning people who are registered to vote but rarely do so, or eligible but unregistered voters. It identified 21 counties across Virginia where 1.2 million voting-age people of color reside.
The center partnered with local community leaders in church and cultural circles, who began by asking people what they were worried about, and started taking steps to address those issues. Overtly, the foremost concerns had little to do with who was on Virginia's fall ballot but had everything to do with engaging people in solving problems in their community. Upon some reflection, it was clear which party's slate was best positioned to address those concerns.
"One of the things that it takes is knowing, and caring enough about knowing, what the needs of a community are," said Bernadette Lark, known as B.J. Lark, who is the Roanoke Democracy Center's program director and a well-known singer in church and local activist.
"There is not one person in a grassroots organization that can say they don't know that we have over 500 homeless students in our system," she said. "We know people go hungry and homeless every day. That's just a reality that first must be accepted as the truth of what we're experiencing… You then take that conflict, and ask yourself, 'How can we be part of at least one resolution?' Well, you provide food. You feed them. You go to where these people are."
Lark said bringing food baskets started a larger conversation, where she and others asked people what was on their minds and took the time to listen about what they wanted—rather than immediately urging them to vote.
"If there's a sense that someone cares about you, you tend to be more engaged. We know that type of data has not been researched much, but I know this from firsthand experience," she said. "We didn't walk up to their house and put a 'vote for' sign in their yard. We walked up to their home saying, 'We realize there are needs in the community. Do you know of other family members or people in your community that need the things that we can offer to them, you know, within our means?"
This community-oriented strategy is called relational organizing. But, as Lark noted, it involves more than asking a circle of family, friends, and neighbors to do something. The key, she said, was listening and validating people's concerns.
"You've empowered them enough to show them that they now begin to get the value of their voice, but also you've empowered them to know that they matter," Lark said. "We're building a relationship. I'm not worried they're going to run off before I share my palm cards and flyers."
Miller said this community-based strategy was adding overlooked voters.
"Take Petersburg. Normally nobody cares about Petersburg. It's 86 percent Black. But Petersburg has crossed the 10 percent turnout threshold," she said. "In these places where we've got organizers and we're talking to people about what's important to them, or more directly, what is their pain point? What is hurting? And then we're saying, 'We're going to have to work on this together and let's start this process right now,' we are seeing this amazing turnout."
"Who would have thought that Roanoke's turnout would be more than double Fairfax County?" Miller said. "If you ask anybody, not by the numbers, but by the percentage of voters who are turning out, they're saying, 'You know what, I'm going to go out and vote. I am going to start engaging because I know what I'm voting for and this is what I want to fix.'"
Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.