Sunday, May 3, 2009

McAuliffe's Problem Is Not What He Has Done, But What He Hasn't

For me, today’s debate on various blogs over Terry McAuliffe and the Washington Post article about his business background (which was pretty good except for the fact that it reported no new information and failed to provide any insight into McAuliffe or the election whatsoever -- how on Earth did this article get on the front page above the fold?) utterly misses the point of why McAuliffe is not the best candidate to represent the Democrats in November.

The problem with Terry McAuliffe is not what he has done in the past, but what he hasn’t done.

McAuliffe lacks the lifetime of professional involvement with Virginia issues and Virginia politics that Creigh Deeds has, that Democrats will need in November to beat Bob McDonnell, and that Virginians will need the next four years.

The issue is not whether McAuliffe is a “carpetbagger.” He is not. He did not come here to run for Governor, but he has lived in the Commonwealth for 20 years. Furthermore, as McAuliffe argues, Brian Moran is not from here, and besides the occasional silly comment about his accent, no one calls him a carpetbagger. More importantly, McAuliffe argues, the fact that neither Tim Kaine nor Mark Warner were from here did not prevent them from becoming Governor. I’ve heard McAuliffe point most directly to Mark Warner, for whom Governor was his first elective office.

But the comparisons to Kaine and Warner, and even to a lesser degree to Moran, are instructive, although not in a way that helps McAuliffe. The issue is not how long McAuliffe has lived here, but what he has done in connection with local and state political issues during that time.

Before either Warner or Kaine was elected governor, each had a great deal of experience in Virginia political life.

Governor may have been Warner’s first elective office, but before that he managed Doug Wilder’s campaign, and served as Chairman of the DPVA. And before winning the Governorship in 2001, he ran a prior statewide campaign for Senator against John Warner.

Tim Kaine, meanwhile, was elected to the city council of Richmond in 1994 and selected Mayor in 1998. And he was, of course, elected Lt. Governor in 2001.

On his website, a McAuliffe fact sheet asks the question, “Has Terry been involved in Virginia politics?” Here is the complete answer:
As Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry invested unprecedented resources in Virginia Democrats’ grassroots political infrastructure. In 2001, when Mark Warner ran for Governor, the DNC gave $1.5 million to support Virginia Democrats up and down the ticket. In 2005, when Tim Kaine ran for governor, the DNC gave $5 million to Virginia Democrats – which, at the time, was the single largest donation from the national party of its kind.

In other words, “No, he has not.” Cutting a few checks to spend someone else's money is not "involvement."

Compare this record to Creigh’s, who was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney from Bath County, served in the House of Delegates from 1991 to 2001, and in the Senate from 2001 to present. And Creigh has run a statewide race, in 2005, when he fought Bob McDonnell to a tie despite being outspent two to one.

These record simply do not compare.

For that matter, nor does McAuliffe’s record in this sense compare with that of Brian Moran, who has been in the House of Delegates for twenty years, and was a prosecutor in Arlington before that.

This experience differential has two very important consequences for Democrats and Virginians. First, Creigh’s wealth of experience in Richmond will simply make him a better, more effective Governor. Second, McAuliffe’s lack of experience runs the risk of becoming an insurmountable issue in the campaign against McDonnell.

McAuliffe real response to the lack of experience argument is that not all great ideas come from Richmond, but that is misdirection. As much as Obama was able to ride the need for change that was in the air in 2008, I don’t sense an equivalent “throw the rascals out” sentiment in Virginia in 2009 for McAuliffe to tap into. Take a look at Kaine’s approval ratings. Folks seem more happy than not with their state government. Sure, while the House of Delegates can be comically inept and obstructionist, it operates out of most citizens' sights. For the "we need an outsider to shake things up" argument to work, people have to be fundamentally unhappy with their chief executive heading into the election, and here in virginia, that is not the case.

Terry McAuliffe is a very intelligent guy and a quick study. He seems to intellectually grasp the key issues. He seems like an able campaigner. He is obviously a good fundraiser. Should he be the nominee, I’ll be behind him 100%.

But I sincerely hope he is not the nominee. There is nothing he can do about his lack of Virginia experience between now and November, and Democrats who are supporting him and who claim this is not a problem are kidding themselves.


  1. What you seem to have overlooked is the real kind of experience Terry McAuliffe brings to the table: partisanism. As head of the DNC, his job was to get Democrats elected and defeat all other parties. Some would see that as a good thing, especially now. For myself, I see it as more evidence that he has a long way to go before he's ready for public service. The Speaker of the House of Delegates is a Republican. Can Terry McAuliffe work with him? Or is he hardwired to find ways to defeat him?

  2. Great point. When I spoke with McAuliffe at the Shad, I asked him about this. whether he would be able to work with the Republicans in the House of Delegates if he was elected. His response was that we have to get Democratic control of the chamber.

    Well, duh.

    That said, he is, at heart, a deal maker, so he might surprise us in that respect, if he goes all the way.