RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-It’s official: former Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants his old job back. While some have characterized him as a status-quo candidate, McAuliffe is promising a ‘new Virginia way’ if he’s re-elected in 2021.
Virginia is the only state where governors can’t serve for two consecutive terms and it’s extremely rare for a former governor to run again. McAuliffe’s bid represents a first in more than four decades.
On Tuesday, McAuliffe launched his campaign at Richmond’s Miles J. Jones Elementary school, a setting chosen to reflect what he called his top priority: unprecedented education funding.
McAuliffe unveiled a plan that includes a $2 billion annual investment to get every student online, expand preschool to every 3 and 4-year old, address inequities in public education and increase teacher pay. Within the next four years, he pledged to raise salaries above the national average for “the first time in Virginia history.”
“This pandemic is a turning point in our lives, and our goal can’t be just to go back to where we were before. We need to think big and be bold to move Virginia forward. And the one thing that has the opportunity to lift up all Virginians is education,” McAuliffe said. “We don’t have to limit ourselves to small ball proposals to fix an education system that was built for an industrial revolution, not a 21st century economy.”
While McAuliffe has occupied the state’s chief executive office before, another term could come with new opportunities if Democrats maintain control of the House and Senate.
McAuliffe spent much of his first term “playing defense,” racking up a record 120 vetoes to block Republican proposals, including a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.
Despite the divided government, McAuliffe said he was able to push the state forward when it comes to job recruitment, workforce development and clean energy infrastructure.
McAuliffe also touted the reversal of a “racist Jim Crow law” that resulted in voting rights being restored for more than 200,000 Virginians. If re-elected, he said he would want to make restoration automatic and revisit sentencing reform.
“And with a Democratic legislature, boy, the sky’s the limit on what we can get done to help Virginians,” McAuliffe said.
Yet the former governor has faced push back from many who argue he could use his name recognition and fundraising skills to elevate a new leader in a notably diverse Democratic field. So far, two formally announced candidates have a chance to become Virginia’s first female governor. Either would also be the first black woman elected governor in the United States.
On the ticket for the June 2021 Democratic primary so far are Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), who recently announced she’s giving up her General Assembly seat to focus on fundraising.
McAuliffe was joined by three prominent African American leaders for his announcement on Tuesday who will serve as his campaign co-chairs: Senate President Pro-Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
“Terry has a track record of being responsive to black and brown communities,” Lucas said. “We’re standing with him based on what he has done and what we know he can do. This has nothing to do with race.”
While some are calling McAuliffe the front-runner, 8News Political Analyst Rich Meagher said it’s not a done deal.
“He has never won a primary election. He didn’t have to face one in 2013 and he lost the other primary he ran in in 2009,” Meagher said. “So McAuliffe is not a slam dunk by any means.”
On Tuesday, retired teacher and former Republican Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) attacked McAuliffe’s record on education funding.
“If his sudden interest in K-12 education was sincere, he would have done more during his first term,” Cox said.
Cox is one of two conservatives who have formally announced a gubernatorial bid but party infighting may threaten both of their chances in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to a statewide office in a decade, according to Meagher.
Over the weekend, Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) said she would run as an Independent after the Republican Party of Virginia decided to choose a nominee through a convention, rather than a primary election.
“The squabbling on the Republican side is definitely good news for Democrats. Unless Republicans can settle this issue…it really makes it hard for them to see a path to victory in the governor’s race next November,” Meagher said.
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