That leaves an expected battle between Cuccinelli, a conservative who is loved by his party base, and McAuliffe, who previously ran the Democratic National Committee and has been angling for the governor’s mansion since losing in the 2009 primary.
Perriello, who held the Charlottesville-based 5th Congressional District seat for one term before losing in 2010, is revered by many liberal activists in Virginia and across the country, and some on the left have urged him to consider a statewide bid. He released a statement Wednesday saying that he had been inspired by last month’s election results.
“In this spirit, I have considered a run for Governor, and am genuinely touched by the outpouring of support,” he said. “I do not feel called to serve in elected office at this time, but I do not need to have my name on the ballot to be part of the fight.”
Perriello, who has a strong relationship with President Obama and was part of several campaign events in battleground states this year, said he will continue in his role with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, to fight for progressive causes and against Republican ideas he considers extreme.
“No one has worked harder to prevent this extreme agenda from reaching the Governor’s mansion than Terry McAuliffe,” Perriello said in the statement. “I hope that progressives and moderates can unite as Virginians choose between the worst of our past and the best of our future.”
In a statement released shortly after Perriello’s, McAuliffe praised him as “a courageous and principled fighter for progressive values and one of our party’s best spokesmen on issues of economic fairness.”
Even before Perriello’s announcement, McAuliffe sought to convey the idea that Virginia Democrats were rallying around him.
His campaign has released the names of several current and former elected officials who will serve as co-chairs of his bid. The list did not include Warner, Sen. James Webb (D) or Sen.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D), although they are likely to rally around McAuliffe now that he does not appear to have any primary opposition.
On Wednesday, McAuliffe filed the official paperwork to create the Terry McAuliffe for Governor Committee, and he toured Richmond’s Corrugated Box Building, which was renovated to become a business incubator. McAuliffe chatted with the founders of several high-tech start-ups sharing space there.
“I think we all know with the economy, with cuts to defense coming, we need to diversify this economy,” he said. “And I think one good way to diversify the economy is to bring in the folks like we have here — to welcome new, creative ideas, create jobs.”
In a brief interview with reporters after the tour, McAuliffe was asked how he would energize Democrats, who rejected him in a primary four years ago.
“I think we do what I’ve done the last several years — we’ve done over 2,400 events, traveling throughout the commonwealth,” he said. “I’ve spent my time listening to folks.”
McAuliffe said the economic challenges Virginia faces, particularly with looming defense cuts, make his business background especially valuable now.
“It’s a different economy moving forward,” he said. “This is something I’ve done my whole life — I’ve created many jobs. I think we need some new and creative thinking to create jobs.”
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.