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Hillary Clinton-Terry McAuliffe in 2016? Whispers begin

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe with mentor former President Bill Clinton. AP Photo

There are a lot of “ifs” that have to fall in place first, but whispering has already begun about a potential presidential or vice presidential bid by surging Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Political analysts who in the past have added the names of four of the last five Virginia governors to lists of potential presidential candidates said the former Democratic Party chairman who has never been elected to any office would be automatically be considered for the Democratic 2016 list if he beats Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli in three weeks.

“The field would be wide open and McAuliffe can really raise money like few others, one of the keys to winning the nomination,” said Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Quentin Kidd, the director of Christopher Newport University's Wason Center for Public Policy, agreed, noting that to win, McAuliffe had to overcome huge political obstacles. “I think if McAuliffe pulls off a win then his name has to be on that long short list. I think if he wins it will have to be called an upset of sorts because it will upset several decades of election patterns in Virginia, where we elect a governor of the opposite party as the new (or re-elected) president,” he told Secrets.

But there are two big parts of a potential McAuliffe campaign that would have to fall the Democrat's way before anybody would consider him a serious contender, even for vice president.

First, front-runner Hillary Clinton would have to decide against a run. She is planning to make her decision next year. If she runs, McAuliffe, her 2008 campaign advisor who wouldn't likely challenge her, is Clinton's obvious state campaign chairman. If she doesn’t, “anything’s possible,” said Sabato.

Second, he would need a fast start as governor and some big successes, unlikely in politically divided Richmond. “McAuliffe will have to have some accomplishments to tout — no easy task given a large GOP majority in the House of Delegates,” said Sabato.

Kidd, who’s polls have consistently shown a solid McAuliffe lead over Cuccinelli, said “in order to stay on the list he will need to accomplish something as governor, not necessarily because he lacks experience, but to prove his credibility.”

He added: “If after two years we're seeing stories about how well McAuliffe works with the General Assembly, then I don't see how his name gets left off those long lists of possible presidential candidates.”

Stephen Hess, the presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that McAuliffe is more likely a potential cabinet secretary or top White House aide in a Hillary Clinton administration.

McAuliffe, said Hess, “has all the liabilities of the Clintons and none of their assets. I really don’t see him in the 2016 presidential candidate mix. But if Hillary runs (and why not?), and wins (why not?), expect McAuliffe to have a prominent (Cabinet? White House?) place in the second Clinton administration.”

Or, suggested another Democratic political advisor, a Clinton-McAuliffe ticket.

Three former Virginia governors have become president, but the last was in 1841. However, four the of last five governors, including current Gov. Bob McDonnell, were considered potential presidential or vice presidential timber.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.