How would Terry McAuliffe govern Virginia?
Should Terry McAuliffe indeed win Virginia’s gubernatorial election in a few weeks, a result most current polls indicate is a distinct possibility if not a probability given his growing support among potential female voters, style will be something to watch.
The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, legendary fund-raiser and noted Friend of the Clintons is a swash-buckling national figure. The generally button-down Commonwealth isn’t accustomed to having national figures as its governor – at least not at the beginning of their term.
And he's, well, kind of crazy in an endearing way -- to some. Downing a shot of liquor on the set of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" after a successful overseas trip? For whatever reasons, that has become a widely-distributed Cuccinelli attack ad.
Terry is to be taken in the eye of the beholder.
Not only that, but McAuliffe has never held elected public office.
Enter the intrigue.
Namely, in what manner would this person govern one of the more influential states in the nation?
Charles Walcott, senior professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science, has a pretty good idea of how McAuliffe would govern. He has spent much of his career delving into the inner-workings of the White House and its various primary occupants, and uses McAuliffe’s history as a guide.
“My guess, given his history, is that he would be more or less Clintonian, trying to govern from the center -- if only because the legislature wouldn't let him do much else,” Walcott says. “I'd also expect him to be a highly visible promoter, not a hands-on manager.”
The two most recent Virginia governors with no previous experience in elected office were Democrat Mark Warner in 2001 and Republican Linwood Holton in the topsy-turvy turbulence of 1969.
Warner, a businessman like McAuliffie, is now a U.S. senator after his tenure as one of the more popular governors in recent history. Despite his various forms of tax increases, he exited with an approval rating of around 70 percent. Holton, the father-in-law of former Va. governor and current U.S. senator Tim Kaine, obviously served in a different time and was a moderate who more or less supported most of the issues of today’s Democrats – especially on issues related to race relations.
Which brings us back to McAuliffe and how he might govern. And make no mistake, he has powerful connections with the Clintons and with a variety of overseas business contacts.
Even so, the questions remain, as does the intrigue.
“It is not very clear how McAuliffe would govern, especially when it came down to prioritizing among hard choices,” says veteran Virginia politics watcher Bob Holsworth, a former professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “He doesn't have a record in office that would allow us to be confident in our judgments and his campaign.
“So far, effectively, has often avoided hard choices. The one very clear signal he has given is that he strongly favors Medicaid expansion.”
That’s in stark contrast to McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, who is steadfastly against exactly that.
But to Walcott’s point, of McAuliffe possibly replicating the Clinton model of getting the best minds in a room and picking their brains about various political solutions to complex issues, Larry Sabato is in agreement. But he also makes a POTUS comparison.
“McAuliffe will have a lot of on-the-job training, and he'll have to bring people in who actually know Richmond and how it works,” says Sabato, head of the University of Viginia’s Center for Politics. “But that may be beside the point (as) McAuliffe will face an implacable House of Delegates. Even if Democrats pick up some seats, Republicans will control the House solidly.
“He'll have to find some relatively apolitical legislation to get anything done. Otherwise, his governorship will be mainly about symbolic actions he can take in the executive branch, as well as vetoes.
“McAuliffe will be in a position not unlike President Obama, who is stymied by a GOP House, except that McAuliffe will have even less power since Virginia doesn't have a foreign policy."