Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has been stuck at the bottom of all the 2020 presidential polls, saw his political stock soar last week when his party scored huge election victories, cementing his legacy and giving him a platform to run on.
“Certainly Tuesday night was a triumph for McAuliffe, who looks like a potential if not likely presidential contender. His pitch is simple: ‘We took on Trump in Virginia and won,’” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics Sabato Crystal Ball.
While an anti-Trump wave certainly helped Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam succeed McAuliffe, several insiders credit the governor with restoring a broken party organization and keeping many of his promises for the big win.
“I think he can make just as compelling a case as anybody at this point. He was consistently a popular governor, he followed through on a lot of his promises, he found a way to work with an overwhelmingly Republican General Assembly where he could and did battle when he needed to,” said one-time aide Mo Elleithee, the director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Policy at the McCourt School of Public Policy.
Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, added that in his polls, McAuliffe has remained popular and Virginians feel far better about their economy than the rest of the nation.
“That’s got to be good for any governor,” said Kidd, who added that he expects McAuliffe to run in 2020.
Elleithee said that McAuliffe’s past experience as a top Clinton fundraiser and Democratic National Committee chairman, combined with his four years as governor, give him an edge.
“He’d be able to raise money, he has the the beginning of a national network from his years in national politics, and now he has a Virginia record in both policy and politics to put out there,” he said.
Another Democratic insider who has worked with several past candidates said the Virginia elections, and McAuliffe’s success in keeping the state blue, will help to show voters that he is up to the job of president.
“Terry already has demonstrated he can win and govern in a purple state. Maybe election night buffs and shines that narrative a little. But people don't elect a campaigner in chief. They elect someone who can excite the party about the possibilities. Terry's assets are his assets. He has infectious enthusiasm and he has a good story about governing as a chief executive,” said the activist on background.
“He's a Washington insider who many people still mostly know as the Clinton's deal-making insider friend who was a creature of the swamp Trump ran against. But no one should underestimate Terry, the same way no one should've underestimated Trump. I talk to a lot of people who say, ‘He's our Trump, he's our carnival barker,’ and maybe that's what we need to win,” added the insider.
Pollsters note McAuliffe’s success as governor and in the elections, but aren’t quick to suggest it will lift him from the bottom to the top of the 2020 Democratic preference polls led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and former first lady Michelle Obama.
“Not sure the impact on a 2020 bid, but being succeeded by someone of your own party as governor by a clear margin, when the race was expected to be tighter, is certainly a positive outcome for him,” said Republican pollster David Winston.
Democratic Pollster John Zogby said McAuliffe’s past may dog him. “On the surface, the Virginia results looked like a very sweet moment for Terry McAuliffe. A huge turnout, a record victory for the Democratic candidate, an electorate motivated by more than anything else a distaste for President Donald Trump and support for Obamacare,” said Zogby.
But, he added, “The Establishment-Progressive split is approaching the hopeless stage, and McAuliffe is too closely associated with both the Establishment and with Bill and Hillary Clinton to rise above the fray. Any run for president by McAuliffe will conjure up many of the things that voters don't like about both Clintons — the lifestyle, the fundraising, the rule breaking. He will not get a pass from the Progressives for all these reasons.”
Elleithee, however, said voters will likely be more open minded.
“I think that Democrats are not going to be looking necessarily for something new, but something right. They want to find a person that is going to be able to make the best case and build the best campaign,” he said. “They are going to be looking at the person that can best speak to the Democratic coalition, the person who can best expand the vote and start to win back these Democratic voters that abandoned us, and they're going to be looking at the person who can build the best campaign.”
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org