POLITICS
06/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Influence Felt In Virginia Gubernatorial Race

Public polls -- though not all -- are beginning to show separation between Terry McAuliffe and his two challengers in the Democratic primary for governor of Virginia. And in his forthcoming New York Times Magazine piece on the former DNC chair's run at the office, Adam Nagourney points to a whole host of reasons why: from McAuliffe's boundless energy and ability to avoid verbal gaffes, to his massive fundraising apparatus and recruitment of local officials.

And yet, what stood out was one of the issues that could potentially trip up the longtime Clinton hand. As both Nagourney and McAuliffe's chief opponent Brian Moran hypothesize, McAuliffe's opposition to Barack Obama's presidential campaign remains something of a thorny subject, especially in a state where the president won the primary by 30 percentage points.

From Sunday's piece comes this:

...[T]here are whispers of lingering resentment among some Obama supporters that he didn't stop fighting when the battle was obviously over; Moran told me that he has heard such complaints from "numerous people" and has no doubt it will hurt McAuliffe in the primary. "There was a time when Democrats needed to come together behind our candidate, and he was very slow in doing that," Moran says.

McAuliffe noted that after Clinton withdrew, he almost immediately moved over to helping Obama, campaigning for him in Virginia. "Remember, I'm the chairman of the party who picked him as the keynote in '04"...

Whether Obama supporters are indeed still cool towards McAuliffe and whether that will have an electoral consequence remains to be seen on primary day. Nagourney does report (for the first time, I believe) that aides to the then-Democratic presidential candidate were skeptical enough of McAuliffe's Virginia appeal that they polled how he stood among Commonwealth voters before sending him out as a surrogate during the election.

Taken together, the situation does seem to present an intriguing political story line. Which Democratic president holds more sway in VA: Bill Clinton (McAuliffe's longtime friend, confidant, and now, surrogate) or Obama?

Except, it's not so absolute. A late April USA poll showed McAuliffe winning Obama voters among Democratic primary goers: 41% to Moran's 23%. The numbers are due, in large part, to the fact that McAuliffe did, indeed, do yeoman-like work in Virginia during the general election campaign. Mainly, however, not that many Virginians actually care deeply about the matter.

That said, McAuliffe has worked to bridge any potential divide, cutting a 60-second radio ad touting the work he did to unite the party before and during Obama's election. And he has pledged, numerous times on the trail, to use his status as a known political commodity as a means to work more closely with the White House than any of his competitors.

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