ANNANDALE, Va. (WJLA) - Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s Democratic candidate for governor against Republican Ken Cuccinelli, has just finished a campaign event in the back yard of a modest Annandale house. Afterward, he dutifully shakes hands, listens to a couple of heart-felt stories about suffocating financial burden and, as his former boss, Bill Clinton, would do with aplomb, assures them that he feels their pain.
But time is tight, and he needs to be whisked by his campaign personnel to another stop, so he shakes the last hand and ducks into the basement of the event’s organizer, plops into a chair on the side of the stairs.
Nah. This is Terry McAuliffe, the whirling dervish of out-sized personalities. When asked why he wants to be governor of Virginia, he immediately begins to rattle off campaign talking points, “what I just talked about out there,” he says, motioning toward the basement door before being politely interrupted.
No, no, no. Not what you said out there.
You’re Terry McAuliffe, confidante of the former President and his wife, one Hillary Clinton. If you wanted, you probably could get either of them on the phone within the hour, if not immediately. You’re the former head of the Democratic National Committee and a fund-raising rock star in your party.
You’re a wealthy man.
You’re Terry “Fricking” McAuliffe. You don’t need this. Governor of Virginia? Really? Why?
He nods and pauses before replying in a firm-but-thoughtful tone, almost defensive.
". . .I mean, this is our home,” McAuliffe says, sticking out both arms and showing his palms. “We’ve lived here for 21 years!”
He’s an experienced political animal, and wants to make his mark on his adopted state.
“I’m passionate about issues,” he says.” Always have been. Been involved in the middle of issues my whole life, and this is important. This is our home, this is where I’m going to stay for the rest of my life, and if you think things ought to be changed, then don’t complain. Get in and do something about it, and I think we can really make some real progress here.”
A New Yorker in Virginia
McAuliffe was born February 9, 1957 in New York and grew up in the Syracuse area. He and his wife, Dorothy, have five children. He matriculated to the D.C. area in the late 1970s and graduated from Catholic University in 1979 and almost immediately went into politics, working for the re-election campaign of President Jimmy Carter.
As an investor, he became a wealthy man through a wide a variety of ventures; some successful, some not. But he knows how to raise money, and that’s one of the reasons he was asked to help guide the Clinton machine in the early 90s, and later serve as the head of the Democratic National Committee from 2001-2005.
In short, he has connections, and he has used them to help himself, his party and others. Take, for example, nationally known Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast in the late summer of 2005, Brazile braced for the worst, inasmuch that the Louisiana native had many extended family members living in and around the New Orleans area.
Then the levees failed, the much of the city literally was underwater, and chaos ensued. McAuliffe called Brazile.
“And what happened next just shows you the type of human being he is,” Brazile says. “He just said, ‘What do you need?’ and I said, ‘Terry, my family is wiped out, they are scattered in eight states and 14 cities.’ ”
McAuliffe arranged for a truck, rallied volunteers and, well. . .
“And lo and behold, Terry McAuliffe filled the entire damn truck,” Brazile says, “and I had to go out and get another truck, because I had other friends who wanted to donate supplies and goods, and to this day, there are still people in Louisiana who are wearing clothes and have furniture because of his generosity.”
Former Virginia Democratic Committee chairman Brian Moran has had philosophical differences with McAuliffe over the years, and ran against him in 2009 for the state’s Democratic nomination for governor, ultimately seized by Creigh Deeds, who would go on to lose against Bob McDonnell in the general election.
McAuliffe was more of a national figure, and admits he didn’t then forge enough of a connection with Virginia voters. The common line of attack by McAuliffe’s opponents was that he was a carpetbagger.
Moreover, Moran questioned some of McAuliffe’s business practices, arguing that sometimes McAuliffe would make tidy profits while others lost jobs in the process.
Now? Moran is the co-chair of McAuliffe’s campaign.
And because of their backgrounds, he has a healthy respect for McAuliffe’s resume.
“There have been none better,” Moran said of McAuliffe’s time leading the DNC. “I don’t think anyone has been as good as Terry as being the cheerleader-in-chief and fundraiser, and as party chair, that is your job. Your job is to support candidates and raise money for the party to help those candidates, and that’s what my role was as state party chair, and Terry’s as national chair, and I don’t know if there’s been anyone better.”
Leading in Polls
On the trail, McAuliffe has stuck to a basic message of job creation, mostly side-stepping questions about his since-dissolved relationship with Green Tech, an electric car company that has faltered and has attracted the attention of federal investigators about its hiring practices.
He has a slight lead in most every poll of note and, according to noted political pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, slowly but surely is becoming the “smart-money” pick.
“McAuliffe has been effective at one big thing in this overwhelmingly negative race: He’s made Cuccinelli the main issue, and he’s had the money to do it,” Sabato says. “The McAuliffe campaign correctly realized there was no way to sell their candidate as a positive alternative. McAuliffe is the remainder candidate, once voters say Cuccinelli is too extreme and the Libertarian, Robert Sarvis, can’t win.
“McAuliffe has his own scandals and embarrassments, not least GreenTech, and they can’t be explained away. But so far at least, GreenTech and all the rest are driving McAuliffe’s unfavorable ratings up without causing weak partisans and swing voters to move to his opponents.”
"I'm A Happy Warrior"
Asked about the steady stream of negative attacks against him by the opposing campaign, McAuliffe grins and resolutely shakes his head.
After all, it’s not as though he’s a newbie to political campaigns.
“I’m a happy warrior,” he says. “I’m out there and I’m passionate about the issues. I don’t let any negative energy around me. I don’t allow it. I stay focused. I stay positive.
“And the only negative things that come to me are from the people I meet whose lives, well, there’s some horrible situation that they’re in. . . and they grab your arm, and there are tears rolling down their eyes about their child. . .That will fire me up all day. It’s about them, it’s not about me.”