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Warner Given Warning About Black Vote

Tim Craig

Is former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner, the presumptive Democratic nominee in this year's U.S. Senate race, taking black voters for granted?

Maybe, according to the Richmond Free Press, the city's black newspaper.

In an editorial this morning, the newspaper warned Warner he does not have a lock on the African-American vote. Although the editorial board conceded Warner is heavily favored to win in the fall, it noted former senator George Allen (R) was also the front-runner a few months before he lost his bid for reelection to Democrat James Webb.

'"Overconfidence is the mother of disappointment," the editorial stated.

It went on to imply that Warner's outreach to the black community is limited to the invitations he gives out for his annual pig roast at his farm on the banks of the Rappahannock River.

"We recommend that Mark Warner start giving more attention to his most reliable body of constituents and recognize that his 'almost annual pig roast' hardly comes close to giving the return on the large investment that his most loyal voters have made in the success of his political career."

In an interview today, Raymond H. Boone, editor and publisher of the the Free Press, went even further in his stance about Warner and the black vote.

"You really infrequently see Mark Warner on the scene in the black community until election time," Boone said. "I don't think Mark Warner has shown enough appreciation for the base that has given him an ultra-successful career, and he needs to show that appreciation and he needs to give a meaningful return for the political investment that black people have made in his candidacies...If it were not for black voters, would Mark Warner be where he is at?"

Kevin Hall, a Warner spokesman, said Warner "always appreciates" Boone's advice.

"Mr. Boone can rest assured that Governor Warner is working hard in the African-American community and all across Virginia to bring people together to get our country back on the right track," Hall said.

Boone has been known at times as a controversial figure in political circles. But he also operates a newspaper that is well read in Richmond's large African-American community. In 2007, the newspaper played a key role in helping to defeat former state senator Benjamin J. Lambert in the Democratic primary because of his endorsement of Allen over Webb in the 2006 Senate race.

Black voters could play a critical role in Virginia elections this year because they are expected to turn out in large numbers if presidential candidate Barack Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, is at the top of the Democratic ticket.

According to a Washington Post poll last fall, Warner had a commanding lead over Gilmore among African-American voters. A Democrat running statewide has historically neededed at least three-quarters of the black vote, although Warner has also built a reputation for being able to win over white voters who live in rural communities.

Boone noted that former governor James S. Gilmore III, the likely GOP nominee for Senate, has a respectable reputation within the black community compared to many GOP figures. In 1996, when he was state attorney general, Gilmore took a leading role in marshaling a national response to a spate of arson fires at black churches throughout the South.

"He held meetings across the state and he took a strong position against that kind of terrorism," Boone said of Gilmore. "He also was always aware of the black community and he was communicative."

Gilmore often stresses what he calls his ties to the African-American community and vows to make a big push to win over black voters this year.

By Tim Craig  |  May 15, 2008; 11:53 AM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/Congress , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , James Gilmore III , Mark Warner , Tim Craig  
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