- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Virginias special congressional election last week showed yet again that Democrats can turn out black voters when they need to.
Going into the election, both parties said the outcome would depend on which campaign got its voting base to the polls. Even though she lost, Democrat L. Louise Lucas, who is black, came within four percentage points of beating Republican J. Randy Forbes. Republicans and Democrats agree that more black voters turned out in the 4th Congressional District than in past elections.
"Its a recent phenomenon, and were very encouraged by it," said Mark Gersh, a strategist for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), at a postelection briefing with reporters.
Black voters turned out heavily for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and the trend grew in 1998. Black turnout in Maryland, for example, went from 12 percent of the total voter turnout in 1994 to 21 percent in 1998.
In 2000, Democrats and black organizers made their biggest push ever to turn out black voters. In Florida, in particular, black voters turned out at a rate 65 percent higher than in 1996. Such a heavy turnout in the prized state provided Democrats with an energized and vital segment of the partys electoral base, nearly tilting the close presidential election to Al Gore. Even though black residents made up less than 15 percent of Floridas population and only 13.6 percent of registered voters in 2000, exit polls showed black voters were more than 15 percent of total voters.
In Virginias 4th Congressional District, where a seat opened because of the death of Democratic Rep. Norman Sisisky in March, turning out black voters was more than a component; it was the centerpiece of Mrs. Lucas strategy for victory.
Black residents in the district constitute about 40 percent of the voting-age population and make up 37 percent of registered voters. However, blacks constituted about 39 percent of those who voted in the election much higher than usual for the district, where Democrats said blacks historically form only about 25 percent of voters in a given election.
Blacks in the district vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Republicans believe that Mrs. Lucas won about 95 percent of the black vote but only about 16 percent of the white vote. In one predominantly black precinct in her hometown of Portsmouth, she outpolled Mr. Forbes by 1470-22. However, she lost many precincts in white areas by 4-1 margins.
The Democrats strategy consisted of an aggressive "get out the vote" campaign, using prominent politicians to energize black voters. Mr. Clinton, Rep. Bobby Scott, a black Democrat whose district borders the 4th, and former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and the first elected black governor in the country, made telephone calls to numerous Democratic activists in an effort to get black voters to the polls.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, criticized Mrs. Lucas campaign for neglecting the states important rural, white voters. The 4th Congressional District stretches from the Virginia-North Carolina border to the southern and western Richmond suburbs, and parts of the district are rural, white areas where Mrs. Lucas and her traditionally Democratic positions had less appeal than Mr. Forbes message of low taxes. Mr. Forbes said Mrs. Lucas approach focused excessively on black voter turnout instead of identifying a broader, more substantive message.
"Why couldnt they bring one national Democrat into this district [to campaign for Mrs. Lucas]? The answer is because they dont have a national message," Mr. Davis said.

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