Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
(D) won the Democratic primary
for governor of Virginia
on Tuesday, giving him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the state.
McAuliffe's victory is a relief for Democratic leaders who see his nomination as the best chance of keeping the party in power in Richmond, but it is a disappointment for progressives
and some Black Virginians who were hoping for new blood.
McAuliffe will face Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin
, a former private equity executive who promises to put an end to the “Terry McAuliffe political dynasty.”
According to Ben Tribbett, a Democratic political consultant in northern Virginia, “McAuliffe’s victory was fueled by name recognition and the other candidates never consolidating.”
McAuliffe won the Democratic nomination by defeating four other Democrats
: state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and state Del. Lee Carter.
With the opportunity to lead the state alongside a Democratic legislature, McAuliffe campaigned on increasing teacher pay, expanding access to early childhood education
, accelerating implementation of the $15 minimum wage, implementing universal broadband internet coverage, and closing racial economic disparities.
McAuliffe began previewing his message against Youngkin, a business-friendly Republican from the upscale northern Virginia suburbs who has received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump
, near the end of his lopsided primary.
“Let me be clear: Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” McAuliffe said during the Democratic primary’s final televised debate. “He is an extreme, right-wing Republican. He is a Trump loyalist.”
Youngkin, unlike Trump, acknowledges that President Joe Biden
won the election
, but he has rolled out an “election integrity” plan designed to appeal to the Republican base’s unfounded fears of voter fraud.
In the general election, Youngkin is emphasizing proposals to reduce state regulations and taxes, which are middle-of-the-road by national standards.
“We’re going to open up free enterprise,” Youngkin said in a May interview
with CNBC, “and we’re going to invest in creating a business climate
in Virginia where companies want to be here.”
McAuliffe, a businessman, Clinton family acolyte, and fundraiser-turned-Democratic National Committee chairman, governed Virginia from 2014 to January 2018, earning liberal praise for restoring the voting rights
of 173,000 former felons and vetoing legislation that would have restricted women
's reproductive rights
However, due to Republican control of the state legislature, much of McAuliffe's proactive liberal policy agenda was thwarted.
He can more than double his previous output with a Democratic legislature.
Senator Louise Lucas (D) of Virginia is the state Senate
The opportunity to govern with the support of a Democratic legislature was a key component of McAuliffe's case for running. Democratic control of the state House
is likely, and Democratic control of the state Senate is assured.
“Terry has demonstrated what he can do,” said state Senate President Louise Lucas (D), a McAuliffe campaign co-chair. “With a Democratic legislature, he can double what he did before.”
Because the Virginia state Constitution prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms, this was McAuliffe's first opportunity to run for a second term. If successful against Youngkin in November, McAuliffe will be the first Virginia governor to serve non-consecutive terms since Mills Godwin, who served as a Democrat from 1966 to 1970 and then as a Republican from 1974 to 1978.
McClellan and Carroll Foy were McAuliffe's main opponents in the primary. McClellan had a strong base of support in Richmond, but he struggled to carve out an ideological niche and failed to raise the funds needed to compete on the airwaves.
Carroll Foy became the progressive favorite, raising enough money
to compete on television
against McAuliffe. Carroll Foy even won the support of several labor unions
, who were enthralled by her promises to fight for repeal of the state's "right-to-work" law
, which makes it difficult for organized labor to thrive. (McAuliffe has admitted privately that he would sign such a repeal bill if it came to his desk, but
If either woman had been elected, she would have been Virginia's first female governor and the country's first Black female governor. When McAuliffe entered the race in December, months after McClellan and Carroll Foy announced their bids, he was chastised for jeopardizing the opportunity for one of the two Black women in the race to make history.
McAuliffe's primary campaign was supported by the majority of Virginia's legislative Black caucus, including Lucas, as well as key Black community leaders and ministers.
“He has delivered before and will deliver again,” J.J. Minor, a Black community activist and former chairman of the Richmond City Democratic Committee, told Stardia. “In fact, Terry McAuliffe, in my opinion, has some soul in him.”
McAuliffe, indeed, maintained a sizable lead over his primary opponents almost from the start of his campaign.
McAuliffe raised more than $12.8 million to secure the Democratic nomination, thanks to Virginia's lack of campaign cash limits and his extensive network. He received six-figure contributions from Facebook
co-founder Sean Parker, private equity executive and fellow Clintonite Ron Burkle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
's (D-Calif.) campaign account, labor unions LIUNA and AFSCME, and the labor unions LIUNA and AFSCME.
The flood of campaign cash aided McAuliffe in reminding voters
of his liberal accomplishments, assuring them of his job-creation credentials, and, perhaps most importantly, implicitly arguing that he is the Democrat best positioned to defeat the GOP
In March, he told the Jewish
Insider publication, "We have the biggest, broadest coalition of anyone."
Democrats, who have controlled both the governorship and the state legislature since 2019, were most likely thinking about McAuliffe's re-election.
controlled all three of the state's major institutions as recently as 2013.
And the last time a Republican won the governorship, it was in 2009, the first year of a Democratic presidency, when Republican voters are often more motivated to vote than Democrats, and then-Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell won the general election by 17 percentage points.
Virginia has shifted significantly to the left since then, but even with McAuliffe at the top of the ballot, some Virginia Democrats believe that retaining the governorship will be a dogfight without Trump to motivate the Democratic base.
“I expect a very competitive general election with Glenn Youngkin because a lot of what has turned Virginia so blue over the years is energy
among Democratic voters,” Tribbett predicted.