Ralph Northam Campaign Flyers Omitted His Black Running Mate. Was It Racism Or Politics At Play?
A version of this ran in The Virginian Pilot on Oct 19, 2017.
They probably thought no one would notice.
They may have believed that 1,000 pieces of campaign literature that removed all mention of the Democratic ticket’s lone black candidate wouldn’t attract attention given the pile of political propaganda that blows onto Virginia doorsteps during every gubernatorial race.
If that’s the case, Ralph Northam’s campaign braintrust miscalculated. Badly. The optics of what he did are terrible.
And suddenly the Democratic candidate for governor finds himself accused of the same ugly thing his campaign has used to attack his opponent: racism.
In recent weeks, the Northam camp charged Republican Ed Gillespie with running “racist” ads that feature images of MS-13 gang members under their motto: “Kill, Rape, Control.”
The ads point to a vote Northam cast in his role as lieutenant governor last February against a bill in the Senate that would have prohibited Virginia localities from adopting sanctuary immigration policies.
Gillespie’s commercials try to connect that to the violent street gang that’s been responsible for stabbings, shootings, murders and mutilations in the commonwealth.
It’s a stretch.
But is it racist? Depends on your point of view. Fact is, the gang is real. It’s vicious. And its members have ties to El Salvador.
Back to the Northam literature.
Earlier this week, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that a batch of Democratic campaign cards distributed in Northern Virginia omitted the photo and any reference to Justin Fairfax. He’s the 38-year-old African-American lawyer from Annandale who’s running for lieutenant governor with Northam.
The “Fairfax-free” flyers were printed, the Northam campaign claims, at the behest of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which supports a gas pipeline through Virginia. The pipeline is opposed by many environmentalists, including Fairfax.
The union refused to endorse him.
In a Washington Post story, “Black Democrat omitted from some Democratic campaign fliers in Virginia,” the founder of an organization that supports black candidates said Northam’s Fairfax-less literature “reeks of subtle racism” while the president of the Loudon County NAACP denounced the flyers with less inflammatory but equally damning language.
“A lot of us feel the Virginia Democratic Party has never been a very inclusive group,” Phillip Thompson said. “And they always kind of marginalize African Americans without providing any grounds for advancement.
“Hillary won the state of Virginia because of the African American, Hispanic and minority vote. ... Justin is the perfect person to help them do that again, and they still don’t support him.”
This development – less than three weeks before Election Day – has to give Democrats heartburn. With polls that show the race tightening and low voter turnout expected, the party turned to former President Barack Obama to gin up support for Northam and company in the African American community. Obama campaigned for the Democrats in Richmond on Thursday evening.
The Post reported that Fairfax’s initial reaction to the literature was to call the move a “mistake.”
“Everyone who is looking at this will make their own judgements about this particular instance. ... This should not have happened and it should not happen again,” Fairfax said.
Later, his campaign put out a statement that the Democratic ticket was “working well together.”
Doesn’t look like it.
Northam didn’t help himself Thursday when asked about the removal of Fairfax on the decidedly Democratic-friendly MSNBC.
Given the chance to explain the omission, Northam awkwardly sidestepped the question.
“That was with an endorsement from the union,” Northam sputtered. “That’s between the union and him.”
It’s almost as if Northam was blaming Fairfax for not getting on board with union demands.
Look, the office of lieutenant governor of Virginia may be the most inconsequential in the capitol. It’s essentially a ceremonial job, besides being a tie-breaker in the senate.
Oh, and it’s often a stepping stone to a run for the Governor’s Mansion.
Yet in this election year, when the term “racist” has been slung about, it’s astonishing that a candidate would deliberately dump his black running mate from campaign literature just because a union demanded it.
Chances are, it wasn’t racism at work here. Just politics as usual.