National Commentary

Is It McAuliffe To the Rescue?

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Some would argue that 2011 will be as uniquely pivotal for shaping the national destiny over the next decades. What will the impact of the Tea Party be now that over 40 of them are in the U.S. Congress? How secure is the path to economic recovery that’s apparently been set in motion? Will President Obama better his chances for election to a second term?

Some would argue that 2011 will be as uniquely pivotal for shaping the national destiny over the next decades. What will the impact of the Tea Party be now that over 40 of them are in the U.S. Congress? How secure is the path to economic recovery that’s apparently been set in motion? Will President Obama better his chances for election to a second term?

Of course, birds are falling out of the sky, fish are dying by the thousands, and half of northeast Australia is underwater. What if these are omens?

2011 also marks a watershed year in the struggle for political control of Virginia, a bell weather state just across the Potomac from the nation’s capital. Virginia was well on its way to turning solid blue between 2001 to 2008, notching successive victories for Democrats for governor in 2001 and 2005, for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and 2008, and for U.S. President in 2008. Obama’s victory in Virginia was the first for a Democratic president candidate since 1964.

But the tide turned back toward the GOP in 2009 with a sweep of all three statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, and continued into 2010 with losses of three Democratic-held congressional seats in the southern part of the state.

In another remnant of the old “Byrd machine” that ran Virginia politics for most of the past century, Virginia state legislative elections are held in off-years, meaning that 2011 will be a very important one to measure which way the state will go from here on, including toward its 2012 U.S. Senate election, where freshman Jim Webb is now only neck-and-neck in early polls, and, of course, in the 2012 presidential race.

Few Democrats can argue with what former Democratic National Chair Terry McAuliffe intoned in powerful remarks last weekend to the “Road to Richmond” breakfast, an annual send-off for legislators heading to a new state legislative session. He blamed the Democrats for the failure to get the message across last year about their accomplishments on middle class tax relief, health care reform, and successful efforts to pump new life into the nation’s auto industry and financial institutions.

With his bold remarks Sunday, McAuliffe jumped to the head of the pack as the leading Democrat in Virginia, a move done with the benefit of large campaign contributions to both the state Democratic Party and its Fairfax County counterpart. But it’s not just money or his celebrity status due to the high profile he’s cut in national politics over the last 20 years. He’s also a very dynamic and energetic speaker who knows how to get people excited.

Fairfax County, the largest in Virginia with over a million residents, is situated neatly in the northern part of the state closest to Washington, D.C. It is also among the wealthiest and best educated in the entire U.S., home to a growing number of Fortune 500 companies, with Northrup Grumman joining the list by relocating there in 2010.

It is also home to McAuliffe, where the commute to D.C. is very quick. McAuliffe was considered a party-crasher when, out of the blue, he decided to compete for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia in 2009. He’d technically lived in Virginia for 20 years, but local political leaders felt he’d ignored his home state while he ran the DNC in Washington, led President Clinton’s re-election bid in 1996, and ran Hilary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

Therefore, his decision to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination was met with a lukewarm response, at best, from many state party regulars. But he ran a serious campaign and came in second among three candidates, the other two being long-time veterans of state politics.

Since then, the loss of the statehouse in 2009, foretelling the Democratic losses in the congressional elections last November, has had the state Democratic Party reeling.

In 2011, there are no less than 13 elections in Fairfax County, from every state legislative seat to every seat on the county board and school board. Many are now looking to McAuliffe to lead a turn of the current tide.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]

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