It was inevitable. Terry McAuliffe is back.
Democrats needed someone to come off the bench to be the lead fundraiser and lead cheerleader for the efforts to retake the Virginia House of Delegates. That role is usually filled by a governor regardless of party.
That’s not really an option for Democrats this year. Governor Ralph Northam raised a paltry $2,500 after the General Assembly session. That’s a massive break with historic trends.
Past governors have logged hundreds of thousands of dollars in that same period. Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax raised little to nothing, and Attorney General Mark Herring raised roughly enough to send one or two glossy mailers to an entire Senate district.
Thus, the second coming of TMac — deal maker extraordinaire, Clinton confidante and pitchman.
McAuliffe made his name in politics by fundraising. Governor McAuliffe raised over a half million dollars in the same period during his term, although he failed to dislodge GOP majorities in the House and Senate in 2015. Yet McAuliffe faces some stiff headwinds in his new, non-presidential candidate role.
First and foremost, just what is his pitch to Virginia Democrats to open their wallets?
While Northam, Herring, Farifax and the entire Democratic caucus lined up behind Del. Kathy Tran’s late-term abortion bill, McAuliffe gave a solid “absolutely not” when asked if he supported it. That didn’t keep him from changing his mind, though.
Just a few weeks later he told John Fredericks that he wouldn’t have vetoed the bill — a flip so blatant even Politifact took note.
McAuliffe also has some core issue problems with the Democratic base. Most activist Democrats are hell bent on stopping the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines from becoming a reality, but McAuliffe has been an out-and-out cheerleader for the project, a fact that can’t sit well with environmental activists.
His lukewarm take on the Green New Deal won’t win him any love letters either. While 2020 Democrats embrace it, McAuliffe derided it as “impractical.” There’s also the small matter of his “absolutely” being a capitalist, a line that’s not popular with the grassroots as of late.
More importantly, McAuliffe faces structural hurdles to raising money. As governor, donors may expect a modicum of influence, not unlike when McAuliffe flipped his position on appointments to Boards of Visitors after a well-timed $50,000 donation. As ex-Governor McAuliffe, he has no more influence to dangle.
He’s also fresh out of powerful friends who are either on the rise or on their way to the White House. The #MeToo movement finally caught up with President Clinton, and Hillary Clinton’s belated discovery of Wisconsin and Michigan mean he can’t offer the ear of the future President of the United States.
More to the point: unless McAuliffe intends to announce a run for Governor in 2020, he’s stuck selling the same message that Ralph Northam would have been selling before his yearbook fiasco — late term abortion, gun control, and banning fossil fuel power plants — but with none of the influence to close the deal.
Republicans, on the other hand, are sanguine about the whole affair.
“We look forward to hearing whichever message Governor McAuliffe chooses to carry on the campaign trail,” said House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert.
So do Virginia Democrats.