Return of the Mac: Terry McAuliffe Wins Va. Democratic Primary
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is one step closer to winning his old post after defeating four other Democrats in a primary on Tuesday.
McAuliffe’s decisive win over a diverse field sets up a closely watched general election contest with Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
McAuliffe’s primary competition included state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and former state Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, both of whom were aiming to become the first Black woman elected governor in the U.S. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Delegate Lee Carter were also in the race.
Virginia’s off-year elections are seen as a bellwether for the national mood. In nine of the last ten gubernatorial races, the party in the White House has lost the contest in Virginia.
McAuliffe bucked that trend when he narrowly won his first term in 2013. The former entrepreneur and chair of the Democratic National Committee spent much of his term battling a Republican-led legislature on hot-button issues like abortion and gun rights. He also made economic development a priority, aggressively courting Amazon in a successful push to bring their second headquarters to Northern Virginia (the current governor, Ralph Northam, ultimately inked the deal).
McAuliffe mulled a run for the White House after his term ended in 2018 but ruled it out after now-President Joe Biden, whom he’s called a friend, entered the primary.
If he wins in November, McAuliffe will be just the second two-term governor in Virginia since the end of the Civil War. Virginia’s constitution forbids consecutive runs and McAuliffe has been endorsed by Northam, who is expected to retire from political life after his term ends.
McAuliffe and Youngkin, a former CEO of the Carlyle Group, have some things in common: Both men are wealthy, well-connected residents of the Washington D.C. suburbs. McAuliffe is a prolific fundraiser who counts Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former President Bill Clinton as allies, while Youngkin has already plowed more than $12 million of his own money into his campaign.
The pair began a volley of mud-slinging immediately after Youngkin won a GOP nominating convention last month. Youngkin has cast McAuliffe as a “career politician” who has failed to solve the problems of Virginians. His campaign immediately launched two ads attacking McAuliffe after his victory, including one featuring clips from Carroll Foy, a primary opponent endorsed by some progressive groups, saying McAuliffe “failed the people of Virginia.” (Carroll Foy said on Monday she would support the eventual Democratic nominee even if she lost).
McAuliffe has repeatedly criticized Youngkin’s embrace of Trump and argued he would bring radical views on issues like abortion and LGBTQ protections that would imperil people’s wellbeing and the state economy.
“We cannot bring the bio, the life sciences, the renewable energy jobs to a state that discriminates,” McAuliffe said at a stop in Richmond on Monday.
Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in Virginia since 2009, when Bob McDonnell was elected governor. Tucker Martin, McDonnell’s former communications director, said the GOP faced an “absolutely formidable” opponent in McAuliffe, who could leverage his experience and connections in his campaign.
Still, Martin, who advised Ed Gillespie in his unsuccessful 2017 run against Northam, predicted Trump would not play as large a role as he did in that race, “when he essentially blocked out the sun.” That could create a more favorable environment for Republicans, Martin said, given Trump’s unpopularity in a state he lost by 10% in 2020. Democrats, on the other hand, have to create a sense of urgency without Trump looming across the Potomac.
“When you win this much, it's hard to keep that energy and intensity up,” Martin said.
Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Trump’s shadow still loomed over the race given the continued news coverage he generates.
“Yes, Youngkin projects a good image,” Sabato said. “But it’s easily dented, maybe even destroyed, because he has a big ‘R’ next to his name and he is very definitely tied to Donald Trump.”
Update: The Associated Press called the primaries for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Del. Hala Ayala will run against Winsome Sears, a former delegate who secured the Republican nomination. Attorney General Mark Herring will seek reelection as the Democratic candidate, running against Del. Jason Miyares, the Republican nominee.