Changing Demographics in Virginia Are Making Republicans Nervous

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If things keep going the way they have in Virginia for the past 36 years, Ken Cuccinelli will win the governor's race. As The New York Times pointed out Thursday, the party that occupies the White House consistently loses the governor's mansion in Virginia. In 2013, however, the state's changing demographics are giving Democratic contender Terry McAuliffe an advantage. He knows this, and he's running on it.

Right now, McAuliffe is leading Cuccinelli 48 percent to 42 percent, according to a Quinnipac poll released Wednesday. The poll also showed that more Democratic voters intend to vote in this midterm election than usual — likely Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 39 percent to 32 percent. The Washington Post notes that's the same split that caused the state to swing for Obama in 2012. 

The Times reports that there's been a decrease in white voters in Virginia since 2009 — from 78 percent to 75 percent. Suburban, minority voters make up more of the electorate than ever before. And the makeup of white voters is also changing — more of them are young, recent college grads, who are more likely to vote for a Democrat because of the party's stance social issues. 

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Republicans are naturally worried about these shifting demographics, and Democrats are trying to ride the wave. The same phenomenon has been happening nationally — whites were only 72 percent of the vote in 2012 — which has spurred GOP leaders to embrace immigration reform. In Virginia, McAuliffe has especially reached out to Latino voters. At a July campaign stop in Woodbridge, he met with Todos Supermarket owner Carlos Castro, and called him an example of the "American Dream":

We can’t grow our economy unless we ensure that Virginia is an open and welcoming state to everyone. I’d love to see thousands of more Carloses by the end of my term as governor. We need to help the Carloses of the future grow and diversify this economy.

McAuliffe has vowed to enact a state-level DREAM Act. He also also campaigned to Asian-American groups, and he hasn't been shy about calling out his opponent's often less-tolerant party. McAuliffe told Politico earlier in August:

This is probably the starkest difference you’ve had between two candidates running for governor. My opponent is on a social-ideological agenda. In my bones, you cannot grow an economy and diversify it when you have these hate-filled statements — as it relates to women’s health centers, gay Virginians, the issues on immigration . . . I want to stop all that.

Cuccinelli, meanwhile, wants to bring back anti-sodomy laws and once compared immigration policy to D.C.'s pest control policy.  

Still, Republicans realize they need to reach out to minority voters, and Cuccinelli is trying to. He's attended festivals and outreach events for various minority groups, all while trying to downplay the idea that there are less white voters than there were before. He told Politico in July:

I’ve been in the biggest melting pot in Virginia. It’s just been kind of something I’ve grown up with. It doesn’t strike me as all that unusual. One of the things that frustrates me about the Republican Party is, you know, all the hand-wringing and everything else after 2012. ‘Oh, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that.’ I’ve been doing it.

So Cuccinelli will keep pretending demographics are no big deal, and McAuliffe will continue to call for more "Carloses." And with the white vote shrinking nationwide, what happens in Virginia in 2013 could be a peek at what's to come nationally in 2016.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.