VIRGINIA

Terry McAuliffe whistling in the dark?

Decrease Increase Text size

RICHMOND, Va. (WJLA) – Terry McAuliffe has a big personality.

A bold personality.

A bi-partisan personality?

That’s what the man says, and Virginia’s freshly elected 72nd governor – former chairman of the Democratic National Party -- peppered his inauguration speech this past weekend with plenty of homage to just such a vision.

A couple of minutes into Saturday’s address, which came amid on-and-off downpours and temperatures near 70 that made an early January day feel like an early summer afternoon, McAuliffe similarly suggested a thaw of sorts while pointing out that benefits to the commonwealth almost always have trumped party concerns.

“Virginia is the national model for fiscal discipline because our leaders, leaders like Gov. Doug Wilder, decided long ago to put the common good ahead of short-term politics,” he said. “That’s the Virginia way (and) it’s a tradition that we should be proud of.

"But it is also a tradition that must be sustained through constant work by leaders who choose progress over ideology. Common ground doesn’t move towards us, we move towards it.”

Sounds good in theory, but not necessarily in reality.

After all, Republicans have a firm grip on the House of Delegates. And that, believes University of Virginia political scholar Larry Sabato, is a problem for McAuliffe that’s exacerbated by his big personality and his big background.

“The Republicans are very wary of McAuliffe,” Sabato says. “They don't trust him, they don't respect him and they recognize one of his main jobs may be to put Virginia in Hillary's column come 2016.”

That would be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, widely considered as a lock for a run at the office once held by her husband, Bill Clinton. McAuliffe was a key strategic operative in the ascensions of both their political careers.

One of the more memorable moments of the inauguration was when McAuliffe made his way down the steps to the stage and exchanged extended, grateful eye locks with Bill and Hillary, both of whom campaigned for him and both of whom have learned how to get things done despite seemingly prohibitive obstacles.

“McAuliffe is a deal-maker, not an ideologue,” Sabato says, “(and he’s) from the Clinton side of the party, meaning he's pragmatic, business-oriented and determined to get things done.”

But with Medicaid expansion among his chief goals and the GOP already having signaled it wants no part of such a byproduct of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, McAuliffe would seem to have entered office already handcuffed.

President Barack Obama knows the feeling. Not long after he was sworn in for his first term, Sen. Mitch McConnell vowed to do everything possible to make Obama a one-term POTUS. That didn’t happen, of course, but might there be a we-want-you-to-fail mindset among a majority of the state GOP?

“I wouldn't go that far,” Sabato says. “Certainly the Republicans running the House aren't going to go out of their way to give him any big victories, especially when doing so would compromise their fundamental principles such as no tax increases or expansion of government.

“. . .So the incentives are there for the GOP not to cooperate much (but) at the same time, they are aware of his veto power and bully pulpit -- and on lower-visibility items, they may well be willing to play ball. McAuliffe is good at horse-trading.”

Recommended For You