The Working Families Party, a national progressive group, announced Tuesday that it is endorsing Jennifer Carroll Foy’s campaign for governor of Virginia.
The WFP hopes to rally the left to Carroll Foy’s side in an uphill primary battle against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a pillar of the Democratic establishment with a mixed record on progressive priorities.
Maurice Mitchell, national director of the WFP, said that Carroll Foy’s identity ― if elected, she’d be the country’s first Black female governor ― and career as a public defender affirmed WFP’s confidence in her commitment to advancing progressive policies.
“Virginia could be electing potentially, a mother of Black sons, and somebody who worked as a public defender and worked in our courts to protect folks who did not have the means,” Mitchell told HuffPost. “That experience of being acquainted with the absolute downsides and failures of our system ― our economic system, our educational system, our criminal-legal system ― has developed a particular perspective that is evident in the policies she is focused on.”
Carroll Foy, an attorney and former state delegate, has the most progressive policy stances of the candidates with a serious shot at winning the June 8 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Carroll Foy’s allies compare her record on civil rights and policing issues favorably with McAuliffe’s.
In her brief tenure at the state House, Carroll Foy authored a historic bill barring police in Virginia from using chokeholds.
For his part, McAuliffe won praise for restoring the voting rights of 173,000 former felons, and pardoning a record number of criminals. He has the support of several liberal labor unions and left-leaning members of the state legislature.
But some progressive activists and lawmakers are critical of McAuliffe for presiding over the execution of three people as governor, and failing, in these critics’ opinion, to intervene more forcefully in controversial police killings.
“When you put her side-by-side with Terry McAuliffe, the contrast couldn’t be clearer,” Mitchell said.
“She’s building a real, bottom-up movement candidacy.”
Carroll Foy’s history of opposing natural gas pipelines and supporting tougher regulation of the state’s utility monopolies has also won her the backing of Clean Virginia, a renewable energy group.
And she has attracted the endorsements of many labor unions thanks to, among other things, her support for the repeal of Virginia’s so-called right-to-work law. Right-to-work laws preclude unions from collecting dues from workers they represent, weakening organized labor in states where the laws are in effect.
“She’s building a real, bottom-up movement candidacy,” Mitchell said. “These candidacies have the ability to not just win elections but change the political cultures in a place.”
The sparse public polling in the race has consistently shown McAuliffe with a strong lead. He has the support of 42% of Virginia Democrats, compared to 8% each for Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, 7% for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and 4% for Del. Lee Carter, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released on April 13. The poll nonetheless showed that 29% of voters are still undecided.
The WFP endorsement is timed to build on a strong fundraising report for Carroll Foy.
Carroll Foy raised $1.8 million in the first quarter of 2021 and had $2.3 million in cash on hand, according to her April 15 campaign finance report.
It’s a long way from McAuliffe, who raised more than $4.1 million in the first quarter, and had $8.5 million on hand as of April 15.
But it provides Carroll Foy with much-needed evidence that she is the best-equipped contender in the field to defeat McAuliffe.
McClellan, a Verizon attorney who has positioned herself in between Carroll Foy and McAuliffe ideologically, and who would also be the country’s first Black female governor, raised about $635,000 in the first quarter of the year. She had about $442,000 left in her coffers as of April 15.
Carroll Foy’s formidable war chest will allow her to reach far more Virginians on television than her competitors, suggesting she has an advantage over everyone but McAuliffe in the coming weeks.
“It’s a two-person race,” said Mitchell, referring to Carroll Foy and McAuliffe.
Although the WFP does not have deep roots in Virginia, the organization believes that with the expertise and resources it can add to Carroll Foy’s operations, she is both the strongest candidate to defeat McAuliffe, and Democrats’ best shot at holding on to the governor’s mansion in November.
“This is a proxy for the larger fight that’s taking place between progressives and folks who have much more transactional senses of politics and much more neoliberal ideological bearings,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to use every tool that we have.”