RICHMOND, Va. — Terry McAuliffe is trying to get his old job back.
The former Virginia governor is set to announce a formal bid for governor Wednesday morning in Richmond, according to a McAuliffe aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about the campaign.
McAuliffe, once best known as a top Democratic money man and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s, will enter an already crowded Democratic primary. The governor's race in Virginia will be one of the country's marquee political contests next year, serving as a barometer of the public mood during President-elect Joe Biden's first year in office.
As governor, McAuliffe had a largely successful four-year term starting in 2014 that saw him tirelessly market the state, make major transportation deals and restore voting rights for thousands of convicted felons. He stepped into the national spotlight as a leading liberal voice on certain social issues, winning kudos for undoing a vestige of the state’s Jim Crow era and restoring voting and other civil rights to felons who had completed their sentences.
And McAuliffe’s blunt criticism of the white nationalists who sparked a deadly rally in Charlottesville in 2017 drew a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump’s shaky response to the violence.
But it’s unclear how broad his support is among Democratic primary voters today. McAuliffe largely governed as a centrist and some of his business-friendly policies and actions as governor may alienate the party’s progressive wing.
And to win the Democratic nomination, McAuliffe would have to defeat three Black candidates who have said the state is ready for new leadership.
Sen. Louise Lucas, a powerful Black lawmaker who is set to serve as a co-chair for McAuliffe, said the state is facing “desperate times" amid the coronavirus pandemic and faltering economy. She said McAuliffe has proven he can fix things.
“I want somebody that I know can deliver," Lucas said.
She added that McAuliffe plans to make improving public education the top priority of his campaign.
Virginia bars governors from seeking consecutive terms and McAuliffe left office at the start of 2018. He briefly flirted with a presidential run last year but decided against it.
His set-to-be-announced candidacy has long been an open secret. He's been a major fundraiser for Democratic candidates in Virginia and filed paperwork to run in August but said no formal decision has been made.
Other announced Democratic candidates for governor include state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, either of whom would be the nation’s first African American woman to lead a state. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is also running.
On the Republican side, former House Speaker Kirk Cox has announced he’s running for governor. GOP state Sen. Amanda Chase has said she’s running as an independent.
Carroll Foy has been a frequent critic of McAuliffe, calling him a “rich political insider with strong ties to the special interests” in a statement Tuesday.
McAuliffe's record has plenty for his opponents to attack during the primary. He supported a natural gas pipeline project bitterly opposed by environmentalists and his most notable tax policy proposal was to cut the corporate income tax rate, an idea that a GOP-held legislature rejected.
McAuliffe also was the subject of a federal investigation looking at donations to his gubernatorial campaign, a probe that never produced any charges. And an electric car company he once lead, which received millions of dollars in economic incentives from state and local officials to build a plant in Mississippi, faced criticism for falling well below expectations in production and job creation.
But McAuliffe is almost certain to be the race's top fundraiser and has shored up support from many key lawmakers. Biden even gave an unofficial endorsement at a campaign rally in Norfolk in March, calling McAuliffe the “once and future governor of Virginia.”