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

The Trouble With Terry

On Tuesday, Democratic primary voters in Virginia will have the chance to decide a neck-and-neck race for the gubernatorial nomination between former state Delegate Brian Moran, state Senator Creigh Deeds, and long-time Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe.

A new PPP poll shows Deeds leading with 27% to McAuliffe's 24% and Moran's 22%. In a race with low expected turnout, numbers like that are essentially a tie. The win almost always goes to the best organized.

McAuliffe is the most well known among the group, but not for having served in Virginia politics (he hasn't) or for his strong ties to the state (he doesn't have any). The success that is driving him through this primary is almost entirely linked to the relationships he's built over the years with Washington insiders. McAuliffe was one of the top fundraisers in the Democratic Party. He helped get Bill Clinton elected to the presidency with his fundraising skills, and later was elected chairman of the Democratic Party, mostly for the same reason. He has a back-slapping charm that has been incredibly useful to siphon large checks from large donors, and keep the Democratic party's spigot flowing. Most recently, he served as chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, largely a fundraising position.

That McAuliffe is even registering in the polls is somewhat surprising, notwithstanding his high name identification. That name ID, after all, is attached to fairly strong memories among Obama supporters of McAuliffe's use of reckless campaign tactics during the 2008 Democratic primaries that endangered the party, and the chances of a Democratic president. Long after the numbers had clearly shown that Hillary Clinton could not win the Democratic nomination, McAuliffe continued to go on television questioning Obama's readiness to lead in ways that would become a rallying cry of the American right. Even while privately, McAuliffe understood that Obama would win the nomination, publicly, he attacked relentlessly.

But frustration toward McAuliffe ought not be confined only to those who were original Obama supporters. Die-hard Hillary fans ought to be furious with their Terry too. For months, as Barack Obama continued to rack up delegates and superdelegates on his quest for the nomination, McAuliffe reassured Hillary supporters. She can still win. When the math was impossible, her loss assured, he showed up on MSNBC and promised, she can still win. When privately, nearly every superdelegate he spoke to told him they would commit to Obama, he went on CNN and said, don't worry, the superdelegates will be with us. She can still win. And at each moment, each time he lied to her biggest supporters, promising them, reassuring them, giving them the falsest of hopes, he asked then for another donation. Don't forget to go to hillaryclinton.com, he'd repeat, the mantra of every good fundraiser.

In those final weeks, when her loss was inevitable, he helped squeeze tens of millions of dollars in small donations out of the pockets of many who could barely afford it, all on the false promise that it might actually see Hillary through to the finish line. It was as dishonest as it was exploitive. No wonder Hillary supporters were so rocked back by her eventual defeat. He'd convinced them such an outcome could never happen, even as he knew it was unfolding.

McAuliffe is running for governor because he's been in Washington long enough that he can. He's running because he's done the other things on his list of things to do. He has no ties to Virginia to speak of, and a set of personal accomplishments that, while undeniably impressive, bear no relationship to his capacity to lead a state he's never been involved in. Which is not to say that he'll be a poor governor. Given the unpopularity of governors nationwide, it's likely that he'll be able to maintain par.

But does he really deserve the office?

Virginia voters pushed hard for a new kind of politics; they voted for Obama both in the primary and in the general election. It simply cannot be the case that what they really craved, what they really said with those votes, was that they wanted their governor's mansion to become a political prize for a well-connected political fundraiser who had waited his turn for the spotlight.

Virginia should be a better place than that. On Tuesday, Virginia voters should make sure of it.