Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a bid for his old job on Wednesday, announcing a gubernatorial run that would make him one of only a handful of Virginia politicians to serve multiple terms as governor of the commonwealth.
“This pandemic has given us big, tremendous challenges,” McAuliffe said. “I am running for governor again to think big, and be bold and to take the commonwealth of Virginia to the next level and to lift up all Virginians.”
Much of McAuliffe’s announcement centered on the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Virginia. The former governor pledged to release a series of plans aimed at creating a more equitable commonwealth in the wake of the pandemic. McAuliffe made the announcement in front of a local Richmond school, where he pledged to make plans to increase investment in education and raise teacher pay central to his campaign.
Ralph Northam, who served as lieutenant governor under McAuliffe and was elected governor in 2017, is term limited. Virginia law prohibits a sitting governor from running for reelection. But former governors are able to run for reelection once someone else has held the job.
Although Virginia has voted for Democrats in the last four presidential elections, it is far from a forgone conclusion that the former governor will be able to win his party’s nomination. He will face a diverse set of Democrats – including two African American women, Del. Jennifer Carroll-Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Black man – in a state that itself is rapidly diversifying.
McAuliffe is a former CNN political commentator.
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, has been a staple in Democratic politics for decades. Before putting his own name on the ballot, McAuliffe had long been a prolific Democratic fundraiser and adviser, with close ties primarily to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The would-be Virginia governor was chair of the Democratic National Committee following Clinton’s second term as president from 2001 to 2005. By the end of Clinton’s eight years in office, McAuliffe would often boast of raising around $275 million for an assortment of Clinton efforts, including both presidential campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s first Senate campaign.
McAuliffe, after leaving the Democratic committee, chaired Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid.
The former governor’s 2021 bid will be his third for governor. McAuliffe mounted a failed bid in 2009, losing the Democratic primary to state Sen. Creigh Deeds. In 2013, McAuliffe ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
He focused intently on bringing business to Virginia during his four years in office, often touting the economic success he had during his tenure. He often sparred with a Republican-controlled Legislature, vetoing a record number of bills. He ended his time in office by restoring voting rights for thousands of convicted felons in Virginia. And McAuliffe, who was governor when President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, became one of many Democratic governors who worked to oppose much of what Trump’s administration attempted.
McAuliffe, after considering a presidential run himself, endorsed Joe Biden during the 2020 Democratic primary and was considered for a Cabinet post in the Biden administration. Earlier in the year, Biden even referred to McAuliffe the “once and future governor of Virginia.”
McAuliffe plans to initially announce three campaign co-chairs: L. Louise Lucas, Senate President Pro-Tempore; Charniele Herring, the House Majority Leader; and Levar Stoney, the Mayor of Richmond. All three are Black, an acknowledgement by the McAuliffe team that there will be racial dynamics at play with his bid.
McClellan on Tuesday signaled just how much the Democratic opposition to McAuliffe will be about the fact that he had previously had the job of governor.
“At this time of tremendous change and challenge, Virginia must look to the future for leadership,” McClellan said in a statement reacting to the news. “We need a governor who can rise to the moment to deliver the solutions Virginia families need: with a forward-looking approach to rebuilding our economy in every community while addressing the health, education, climate, and inequity crises we face.”
She added: “Today’s challenges require new approaches. … I welcome Terry to the race, but I look forward to discussing my 15 years of experience delivering progressive change and my vision for the future with Virginians in the months to come.”
Carroll-Foy slammed McAuliffe as a “career politician” and “a former political party boss and multi-millionaire” who is “simply out of touch with everyday Virginians.”
“Our future demands a leader with vision, creativity, and tenacity to fight for what’s right. The status quo won’t do,” said Carroll-Foy. “Terry McAuliffe is the wrong choice to move our Commonwealth forward, and I look forward to earning the votes to become governor and lead Virginia into the future.”
McAuliffe indirectly took on some of this criticism on Wednesday when he both touted himself as someone who knows the system but also someone who fought against it.
“An old Richmond approach just doesn’t work any more,” McAuliffe said. “Folks, it is time for a new Virginia way. And I know that old way of thinking because I fought against it as governor.”
This story has been updated with additional details.