Democratic Fundraiser Terry McAuliffe Launches Own Campaign for Virginia Governor

A consummate political insider, McAuliffe steps into the spotlight with his own cash-rich campaign.

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As he adds "candidate for Virginia governor" to his résumé, Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman and consummate campaign fundraiser, is hoping to switch his insider status from Washington to Richmond.

It won't be easy for a man known more for his ties to the Clintons than to Virginia, his adopted state of nearly 20 years. But McAuliffe brings with him money, connections, behind-the-scenes experience, and a driving ambition. "He thought like a businessperson, but he led like a public servant," says close friend Minyon Moore of his work on the DNC, where he appointed her to be his chief operating officer. "I thought that unique combination would ultimately lead him to politics."

Although his candidacy was rumored for months, the 51-year-old didn't announce his run until January 3. Radio advertisements soon followed. And last week, his campaign released a barrage of 30-second television spots.

The unusually early start—a record in state history, according to Virginia politics expert and George Mason University Prof. Stephen Farnsworth—is also a symbol of his bankrolling clout.

That's not surprising for a man once called "the greatest fundraiser in the history of the universe" by former Vice President Al Gore. Under his 2001-to-2005 chairmanship, the DNC raised $535 million, outdoing the GOP and getting out of debt for the first time in its history.

Insiders speculate that McAuliffe could raise $80 million for his race, far more than the $25 million collected by Gov. Tim Kaine for the 2005 contest. McAuliffe's key campaign strategist dismisses the figure. "It's not going to be anywhere close to that," Mo Elleithee says. "It's not realistic, and it's not necessary."

Still, campaign finance reports show that McAuliffe raised nearly $950,000 between July and December of last year. In the same period, his opponents, state Del. Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds, raised $755,000 and $610,000, respectively. But they'd been fundraising for the full six months, while McAuliffe started in November.

Analysts say that the money should help equalize the field, particularly because McAuliffe has never run for office before. His two Democratic opponents in the June primaries have served a combined 28 years as legislators. But the only candidate who has held statewide office is the presumed Republican candidate, state Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

McAuliffe's connections also could help. The man who once boasted to a Washington Post reporter that he had "the best Rolodex in the country" was endorsed by Bill Clinton at a Park Avenue fundraiser last month. The party reportedly raised $350,000. And by his own account—as penned in his book, What A Party!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals—he's golfed with Bill Clinton, visited Camp David with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and received a puppy from Dick Gephardt that the former House majority leader drove around for four hours to pick out.

But for voters weary of Washington, that insider reputation could hurt him. "Terry McAuliffe is a salesman. That's great for raising money," says Toni Goodale, a veteran Democratic fundraiser and past critic of McAuliffe. "Whether salesmen can also be great at running states, I don't know."