Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, entered the competition for his old post on Wednesday, offering himself both as a trusted steward during an economic and public health crisis and as someone ready to fight “the old way of doing things ”.
“I’m running for governor again to think big and be bold and take the Commonwealth of Virginia to the next level and uplift all Virginians,” McAuliffe said in a brief speech to a public school in Richmond, in the ‘State. Capital city.
Mr. McAuliffe, 63, officially began his campaign surrounded by four senior elected officials, all black. The setup was a nod to both the relationships he had during his governorship from 2014 to 2018 and the complex nature of the 2021 state primary, in which three black candidates have already announced their candidacy for the Democratic nomination.
Mr McAuliffe’s 2021 campaign has been an open secret in Virginia for months – at a campaign rally in March, Joseph R. Biden Jr. called him “the once and future governor” – and the allies Mr. McAuliffe’s argued that his coalition would. look a lot like Mr. Biden, with grassroots support from black voters and the commuters who sent Mr. Biden to the White House.
“We need him to pull the black community out of the crippling pandemic because he knows it has hit black communities, black communities and brown communities harder than anyone,” said L. Louise Lucas, president of the Virginia State Senate, introducing Mr. McAuliffe on Wednesday. “We need his experience and his proven leadership, his proven leadership, his proven leadership.”
The race for governor of Virginia will serve as the first test for the post-Trump Democratic coalition. For four years, culminating with the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, party voters prioritized eligibility, choosing more moderate candidates who faced liberal embers in nearly every competitive race.
Mr. McAuliffe is the fourth Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race in 2021, joining three black candidates who have campaigned for months: Jennifer McClellan, a state senator; Jennifer Carroll Foy, who resigned her seat in the House of Delegates on Tuesday to campaign for the full-time governorship; and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax.
But unlike the presidential competition, in which Biden sold his eligibility against President Trump, the Democrat who comes out of the June primary in Virginia will be a big favorite against the Republican challenger.
Virginia has become increasingly democratic since 2009, the last time Republicans won a statewide office. The party took control of the state legislature in 2019, and Mr. Biden lifted the state by 10 percentage points last month.
The Republican field seems already fractured, with Amanda Chase, a Republican state senator who models herself on Mr. Trump, announcing last weekend that she would run as an independent candidate rather than seek the nomination of the Republican Party at a state convention next year. Kirk Cox, a former speaker of the House of Delegates, is seeking the Republican nomination and Pete Snyder, a wealthy marketing executive, may also join the GOP primary race soon.
At the same time, some Liberals in Virginia have expressed interest in electing Ms. McClellan or Ms. Carroll Foy, both of whom would be the country’s first black female governor. Virginia has never elected a woman to the governorship, and has not elected a woman to a position statewide since 1989.
Ms. Carroll Foy, the youngest candidate in the field at 39, did not hesitate to attack Mr. McAuliffe like a creature from the past.
“Career politicians like Terry McAuliffe are interested in maintaining the status quo,” she said in a statement Tuesday night. “But Virginians are calling for change. They want someone who understands their problems like I do because I have been through them. While I respect Terry McAuliffe’s service, he doesn’t understand the issues Virginians face. Former political party leader and multimillionaire, Terry McAuliffe is simply out of touch with everyday Virginians.
Ms McClellan, without directly attacking Mr McAuliffe, cited her own “life experience” as proof that she would be the best governor on the pitch in a statement released Wednesday.
Mr McAuliffe said on Wednesday he would focus his campaign on helping the state’s economy recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, promising Virginia’s biggest investment in public education and calling black voters to the Democratic primary in June.
He also leaned heavily on his former tenure as governor, citing fights with Republicans who at the time controlled the Virginia General Assembly. In the same breath, Mr McAuliffe promoted his record as governor and called for a new approach to running state government.
“The old Richmond approach no longer works,” he says. “Folks, it’s time for a new way to Virginia. I know this old way of thinking because I have constantly fought against it as governor, time and time again.
Mr. McAuliffe is a long-time member of Democratic politics, both nationally and in Virginia. He’s close enough to former President Bill Clinton that the pair talk daily, and he claims to make over 100 phone calls every day. Former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr McAuliffe twice ran for governor of Virginia, losing a bitter 2009 primary before winning in 2013. He also weighed in a 2020 presidential campaign but stepped down in April 2019 once it became clear that Mr. Biden would seek the Democratic Party nomination.
He spent the remainder of 2019 campaigning and raising money for Democrats to run for Virginia state legislative seats, helping the party gain control of the State Senate and the House of Delegates for the first time in a generation.
Current Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is barred by state law from running for a second consecutive term. Mr McAuliffe is fighting to be the second governor of Virginia since the Civil War to be elected twice, after Mills Godwin Jr., who was elected Democrat in 1965 and Republican in 1973.
Virginia’s gubernatorial contests, coming the year following the presidential election, have been seen for decades as an opportunity for the party that just lost the White House to take control of a large state government . Mr. McAuliffe’s 2013 victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli is the only time since Mr. Godwin’s election in 1973 that the party that held the presidency has also won the governor’s mansion of Virginia.