So the ever-expanding 2020 Democratic presidential field has lost a potential contender as former Virginia governor and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe disclosed on CNN that he’s going to focus on helping Democrats in the Commonwealth rather than launching a White House run that he allegedly believes he could have won:
McAuliffe expressed confidence Wednesday that “I could really make a difference” and beat “Trump like a rented mule.”
“But we’ve got issues in Virginia and I’m concerned about Virginia, and since February we’ve had a lot of problems there,” he added, in an apparent reference to the blackface and alleged sexual assault scandals that engulfed local Virginia Democrats earlier this year.
Indeed, McAuliffe gave the impression he had been lured away from the presidential campaign trail by folks back home who begged him to save their struggling party. Characteristically, the ever-ebullient T-Mac didn’t acknowledge that despite his Beltway fame and solid record in Richmond, he was largely unknown nationally, except among progressive activists who loath him as the Clintons’ money man and the symbol of lobbyist influence in the Democratic Party.
The most recent Morning Consult tracking poll of actual and potential 2020 candidates ranked McAuliffe 18th, with 47 percent saying they’d never heard of him and another 26 percent having no opinion of him. Aside from that problem, he seemed fundamentally mispositioned for a national party moving left and also moving beyond the turbulent Clinton legacy.
McAuliffe’s decision may also be a leading indicator that former Vice-President Joe Biden is for sure going to announce his own 2020 candidacy soon, occupying most of the “moderate lane” that might have given the Virginian some running room. It’s the sort of information McAuliffe would be in a position to obtain.
And yes, it’s true McAuliffe might have a positive impact focusing on Virginia, where the recent plague of scandals striking the party’s statewide elected leadership is threatening what looked to be very good odds of a Democratic legislative takeover this autumn, just in time for the next round of redistricting. The man may have a lot of baggage, but it doesn’t (so far as we know, and I’m sure Republicans have checked to make sure) include photos of him in blackface (like those afflicting Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring) or any sexual assault allegations (like those being made against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax). And if McAuliffe can make a claim of “saving” the Virginia Democratic Party, he’d be well-positioned to return to the governorship in 2021, despite earlier assumptions that Herring or Fairfax would be the next Democrat in line. The Associated Press notes this contingency:
He demurred on CNN when pressed about whether he’d run for governor in 2021, saying he’s committed to Virginia Democrats first and foremost to help this year and in federal elections next year.
One state lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Dick Saslaw, said that he’s been urging McAuliffe to run for governor.
“He didn’t rule it out,” Saslaw told The Associated Press before McAuliffe’s CNN appearance.
Perhaps the 2020 Democratic field will hold the line at 18 — or 19, or 20 —contestants after all.