He ran the Democratic National Committee, chaired Hillary Clinton's failed 2008 presidential bid and is arguably President Clinton's best friend and fundraiser, but that doesn't mean Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is a liberal.

At least in his eyes. In McAuliffe's first campaign email to supporters, he adopts the "mainstream" banner to charge that his likely opponent is part of an "extremists" movement with backward ideas.

"We've officially opened the Terry McAuliffe for governor committee," he cheers in an email echoed by a similar one from his wife Dorothy. "I'm running for governor because I want to make Virginia home to the best educated, best-trained, and most skilled workforce in the whole world," he adds.

But the longtime Democratic strategist also hinted at his secondary campaign theme. Three times he used the world "mainstream" to say his likely foe, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is out of touch and part of the Tea Party movement.

"We have our work cut out for us. We may not think much of their politics, but we can't underestimate the energy and zeal that our political opponents will bring to this fight. After the 2012 elections, the Tea Party is growing stronger as they push more moderates out of the Republican Party. These extremists are more determined than ever to impose a radical agenda on Virginia families," he wrote. "We need to be every bit as passionate about our mainstream campaign to grow the economy and create jobs."

Without naming Cuccinelli, he wrote, "we will be running against a politician who is far outside the mainstream. He believes government should impose a radical social agenda that restricts women's health, attacks science, and divides Americans."

It's a smart approach, said some strategists, especially since Virginia has turned Democratic blue in the last two presidential elections. But not everybody is sold, and some believe that McAuliffe's liberal ties and lack of government experience will be the issue in the race.

"It's obvious what Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats want to do: Paint themselves as mainstream and the GOP led by Ken Cuccinelli as extreme," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told Secrets. "The difficult half of the equation is in presenting McAuliffe as 'Virginia mainstream.' Judging by past associations, you could certainly call him a liberal."

But, he added, "That misses the point. It's more that McAuliffe has never held any public office in Virginia and has pretty thin connections to the state and its government. This is more a commentary on how thin the Democratic bench is in Virginia. Once you get past Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, there's not a lot of choice."