Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is “seriously” considering the 2020 presidential race, according to confidants.
“He’s given me every indication that he’s taking it seriously,” said one McAuliffe friend who has spoken to him about his 2020 prospects. “I don’t think he’s 100 percent decided that this is something he’s planning to do but it is something he’s seriously considering.”
“Whether he pulls the trigger or not, that remains to be seen,” the friend added.
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McAuliffe could successfully talk about his track record as governor of Virginia, a purple state, former aides and associates say. But should he decide to run, the governor would face some obstacles.
For starters — his close ties to Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE.
On the heels of a disappointing loss in 2016, political observers say Democrats might want someone from outside of Clinton World in 2020.
And McAuliffe, who served as co-chairman of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWill the ‘law and order’ president pardon Roger Stone? Five ways America would take a hard left under Joe Biden The sad spectacle of Trump’s enablers MORE’s 1996 reelection campaign and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, would be labeled by rivals as a major part of the Clinton inner circle.
“I think that’s his biggest problem,” the friend said. “It will be so hard for him to thread the needle. Bill Clinton is his best friend and anyone who knows Terry knows he is a very, very loyal person. He would walk over coals for Bill Clinton, so I don’t think it’s a politically tenable position.”
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, agreed that his Clinton ties are problematic.
“I don’t think he is the way to go for the Democrats,” Zelizer said. “There is too much Clinton in him, and he doesn’t have the kind of fire power on the campaign trail people will need to really rally the base.”
Mo Elleithee, a former McAuliffe aide now serving as the director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Policy, said he did not believe the Clinton ties would be a problem for McAuliffe.
“I don’t know anyone who actually votes that way,” Elleithee said.
“Do I think anyone is going to look at these candidates and make a decision on their previous affiliations? I don’t think it helps or hurts. I don’t think anyone is going to factor that in one way or another,” he said.
Instead, he said McAuliffe “could make as compelling a case as anyone else based on his experience and his background.”
“He’s one of the nation’s most popular governors and has successfully governed in a purple state,” Elleithee said.
McAuliffe generally gets positive reviews in polls of Virginia voters.
A November survey by the conservative Rasmussen pollster found 46 percent of the state’s voters had a positive view of him, while 49 percent approved of his job as governor.
The governor’s allies say he can also point to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) victory in this year’s Virginia governor’s race — an election that observers say helps solidify McAuliffe’s legacy and proves he can take on Trump.
“It shows he has what it takes,” said one former aide. “It proves he could very well take on Trump and succeed.”
McAuliffe took to Twitter for a victory lap of sorts the night of Northam’s win.
“Great night for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he wrote, adding that a “booming economy” was greater than
“fear and division.”
McAuliffe has tried to shy away from whether he’ll run in 2020.
Last month, in the run-up to Election Day he said he was aiming to finish his term as governor “as strong as I can.”
“He legitimately doesn’t know what he’ll do after he finishes his time in Richmond and shuts down any conversations around him about potential plans,” said a source close to McAuliffe. “Sure, people ask him about 2020, but he doesn’t even want to think about it now. When he says publicly that he wants to finish strong and then focus on helping governors races in 2018, he means it.”
McAuliffe’s office declined to comment for this story.
Others around McAuliffe say he’s doing what he needs to do to keep the possibility alive. They note that the governor has been weighing in on national issues and news of the day over the past year.
He was front and center — even appearing at Dulles International Airport — on Trump’s travel ban issue. And he also went after Trump again for the controversial pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in August, calling it a “bad decision.”
“His message has always been jobs, jobs, jobs,” said McAuliffe’s friend. “He hasn’t necessarily gone out on other national issues. I know a lot of people were thinking, ‘Why was he such a vocal voice on Arpaio?’ ”
Those who know McAuliffe say the answer is obvious.
“He’s been within tasting distance of a plum ambassadorship and a Cabinet post,” one former adviser said. “The one-term governorship wasn’t the end. He’s too young and the federal level remains his final frontier.”