RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe entered the race for the Executive Mansion promising a “new Virginia way,” through a platform focused on voting rights, education, and the environment.
His opponents, in an already crowded field, quickly seized the moment to call for a “new approach” to leadership within the party.
McAuliffe enters the race with the most name recognition and a history of raising major dollar figures for his campaign and others.
State Senator Jennifer McClellan, former Delegate Jennifer Carrol Foy, and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax have officially announced they will seek the nomination.
Speaking in front of Miles Jones Elementary in Richmond, a school that benefited from an expansion of the state’s school meals program during McAuliffe’s term, the former governor called education the cornerstone to building a post-COVID economy.
"Recovering from this pandemic is a big challenge, but it’s also a big opportunity if we make investing in education our top priority. I’m running for governor because we need to think big and be bold to move the Commonwealth forward and create a better future for all Virginians,” McAuliffe said.
As a part of his new education platform, McAuliffe called for a $2 billion annual increase in education funding for items like connecting all Virginia students to online learning opportunities, raising teacher pay to above the national average, and expanded pre-K options.
McAuliffe did not offer details on how to pay for those investments.
“This pandemic is a turning point in our lives, and our goal can’t just be to go back to where we were before,” he said.
Both McClellan and Carrol Foy released statements saying that’s exactly where Virginia Democrat’s would be going if McAuliffe secures the nomination.
McClellan said she welcomes the former governor to the race but said her 15 years of legislative experience and close relationship with progressive organizations make her the best candidate of the moment.
“This election is going to be about who is best prepared - by life and public service record - with a forward-looking vision to take on the challenges facing Virginians in 2021. Today’s challenges require a new approach and a fresh vision to rebuild an economy that benefits all Virginians while addressing healthcare, education, climate and inequity crises,” McClellan said in a statement to the press.
Carrol Foy, who resigned from her seat in the House of Delegates to focus on the gubernatorial campaign, called McAuliffe a wealthy politician who is out of touch with average Virginians.
“Our future demands a leader with vision, creativity, and tenacity to fight for what’s right. The status quo won’t do. We need a leader who is willing to solve problems, not apply band-aids that get us from one crisis to the next. This has never been more clear than right now, in the midst of a pandemic,” Carrol Foy said in a statement.
Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who continues to deny two separate allegations of sexual assault from the early 2000s, said his campaign focuses on politics that are about “lifting up all Virginians and fighting to give justice, fairness, opportunity, and hope to those who have been denied them for too long.”
"This is probably the most unusual Democratic primary I can remember in my time watching Virginia politics,” said CBS 6 Political Analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth.
“Each of the candidates are beginning right away to frame the race. Terry McAuliffe: a proven winner, I can do it again… Jennifer McClellan: we need a fresh face to look at some issues. And then, Jennifer Carrol Foy: we need a totally different approach, we need to be far more progressive than the Democratic Party of Virginia has been recently,” Holsworth said.
Holsworth said McAuliffe enters the race as a potential front runner because of his statewide name recognition and past fundraising efforts. The task for McClellan and Carrol Foy, according to Holsworth, is to expand their audience beyond the regions the represent currently.
“The real open question is whether the Democrats believe they want to go with Terry McAuliffe because he’s a proven winner, or do they think that the moment requires something different? Do the Democrats want to nominate a woman of color, for example, as their nominee given all that’s occurred in America over the last year,” Holsworth said.
Fairfax needs to find a way to make a splash in the race because the scandals harmed him politically, according to Holsworth.
“Lt. Governor Fairfax probably has somewhat of a wider audience, but I”m not sure how he raises money right now,” he said.
Del. Lee Carter (Manassass), who describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, has filed paperwork to seek the nomination, according to multiple reports. Carter told reporters at this time he is waiting to see whether or not he will officially enter the race.
Over the weekend, Virginia Republicans chose to nominate their statewide candidates via a party convention and not a primary where voters would pick. The move is widely seen to favor Former House Speaker Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights). Sen. Amanda Chase (Chesterfield) has vowed to run as an independent because of the move.
Holsworth said because of Chase’s following both on social media and the 2nd Amendment movement from late 2019, he would expect an independent run would draw a larger number of conservative voters than Republican party insiders believe.
Only once has a Virginia Governor won a second term. In 1973, Governor Mills Godwin won a second time after switching political parties.