Virginia ’09: McAuliffe for governor?

Analysis by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Terry McAuliffe for governor, huh? In Virginia? Really?

“I was a kid who grew up in Syracuse,” said McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chair and key advisor to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, after speaking to the Virginia delegation at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. “I started my first business when I was 14, got lucky, started a couple companies and basically retired at a young age. I’ve spent the last 15 years as basically a full-time volunteer for the Democratic Party. I love its ideals.

“I would never take anything off the table,” McAuliffe told The Washington Post.

The presence of McAuliffe in the gubernatorial race would add to an already interesting mix that includes Bath County State Sen. Creigh Deeds and Northern Virginia State Del. Brian Moran. Even with the head starts that the two have in the ’09 nomination race, I can see why McAuliffe would think it appropriate to try to get in now. First and foremost, I wouldn’t call either Deeds or Moran an odds-on favorite to knock off the expected GOP candidate, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, in ’09, and think it is highly plausible that whichever of the two would get the nomination would enter the general as a solid underdog.

Deeds is the only one of the two to run a statewide race, losing by 360 votes of the more than 2 million cast in the ’05 AG race with McDonnell. Moran has not run for a seat above the House of Delegates level, though he has put together an impressive nomination-campaign team filled with Mark Warner ’01 campaign heavies.

I would guess that McAuliffe would assume that he could outraise either Deeds or Moran with both hands tied behind his back, and he might not be far off on that count. And since both Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore spent upwards of $20 million on their ’05 runs for governor, his fundraising prowess could raise his stock with Dem primary voters next spring, with the expectation that McDonnell will be a formidable foe in that respect on his side of the lectern.

The thing that I can’t get over is something that I saw my buddy Tucker Martin from McDonnell’s office pick up on in a comment to the Post. “Terry McAuliffe doesn’t know Norton from Norfolk,” Martin said. “If he runs, remind me to send him a Virginia state map.” I don’t look forward to hearing more of the same of that from Martin this time next year if it’s McDonnell-McAuliffe, but I would be almost disappointed as a political player myself if they didn’t play that strategy. Sure, McAuliffe lives in NoVa, but I don’t know that it would be that hard for Republicans to paint him as a carpetbagger not much unlike Hillary Clinton was when she decided at the end of her husband’s term in the White House that she really, really wanted to be the junior senator from New York.

Of course, Hillary won her ’00 Senate run and re-election in ’06, but that was in New York, not Virginia. And the Virginia that I grew up would never elect somebody who appeared to be in resume-building mode who was a Virginia resident only because it’s cheaper to live in NoVa than it is in D.C. That said, though, the Virginia that I grew up in is no more. And I would expect a McAuliffe candidacy to play well in NoVa and Richmond and Hampton Roads and in pockets in the Valley, Southwest and Southside.

No question he loses out this way, but I don’t know that he loses downstate by a wide enough margin to cancel out the voting strengths of Democrats in the Crescent.

So maybe it’s not such a wild idea after all. He’d be the third Democratic nominee in as many quadrennia to hail from out of state (Mark Warner was born in Indiana, Tim Kaine in Minnesota), unimaginable 20 and 30 and 50 years ago in traditional Virginia, but in the 21st century amalgam Virginia that we have come to know and love, I can see McAuliffe playing whatever issue might be raised to that effect down, if not turning it to his advantage.

I mean, I just checked, and it turns out that Bob McDonnell was born in Philadelphia and has degrees from Notre Dame and Boston U.

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