A major Democratic campaign roared into Falls Church Saturday, and the headline attraction urged an adoring crowd to “lead the way of turning from divisive politics” because “the whole country is watching” Virginia.
Terry McAuliffe was there, too.
The nominal reason a throng of supporters gathered at the State Theater on a weekend afternoon was to boost McAuliffe’s campaign for Virginia governor against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). But the real star of the show was Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner for her party’s 2016 presidential nomination — if she wants it.
Clinton made no mention of that contest, focusing instead on the election that’s just over two weeks away. She and Bill Clinton are longtime friends and allies of McAuliffe who have lent their cachet and fundraising prowess to his campaign. On Saturday, she offered her official endorsement.
“He has maybe the biggest heart and the most open mind of anyone you will ever meet,” Clinton said. “Terry has always been there for me, and I am pleased to be here for him.”
Clinton praised McAuliffe for his willingness to work across the aisle — particularly his support of Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s sweeping transportation plan — and she aimed her fire at the just-finished federal government shutdown.
“Recently in Washington we have seen examples of the wrong kind of leadership, when politicians choose scorched earth over common ground,” she said, referring to those who “operate in what I call the ‘evidence-free zone,’ with ideology trumping everything else.”
The event was dubbed a “Women for Terry” gathering, and McAuliffe spent much of his own speech vowing to support abortion rights and women’s health.
“I will be a brick wall to stop any efforts to take away your rights,” McAuliffe said.
When it came time to introduce Clinton, McAuliffe was interrupted by loud “HILL-A-RY” chants.
Shruti Kuppa, a Reston native, took a break from undergraduate work at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to come home for the event. She brought along two non-Virginian friends.
“We wanted to come see Terry and Hillary today,” Kuppa said before the rally began.
In that order?
She thought for a moment: “Hmm, Hillary, then Terry.”
In scale, the event resembled a presidential campaign stop more than a gubernatorial one, complete with police, barricades and long, excited lines snaking outside the venue.
Amber Aaronstein, 37, a business coach from McLean who has volunteered for McAuliffe and other Democratic campaigns, said she came to the event because she got an e-mail invitation from McAuliffe’s wife, Dorothy. “But obviously you want to come see Hillary,” she said.
Aaronstein’s brother, Max Booze, was more succinct.
“It’s Hillary. I got a chance to see her,” said Booze, 26, a personal trainer from Woodbridge.
McAuliffe has been personally and professionally close to the Clintons for more than two decades, raising more than $400 million combined for Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns. He served as chairman of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 effort.
But McAuliffe’s current campaign has a complicated relationship to Hillary Clinton’s potential next one. Clinton’s allies have quietly sought to dispel the notion that supporters must donate to McAuliffe in order to get in on the ground floor with Clinton 2016, or that McAuliffe’s current staff is the “farm team” for Clinton. (Many Democrats view McAuliffe’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, as a potential key player in a Clinton presidential operation.)
Cuccinelli spokesman Richard Cullen said there were “a few things” you wouldn’t hear McAuliffe and Clinton discuss Saturday, including the flaws of the Affordable Care Act and McAuliffe’s investment with a Rhode Island man who pleaded guilty this past November to stealing the identities of dying people to defraud insurers.
“If there was any doubt that Terry McAuliffe would bring Washington, D.C., big-government politics to Richmond, today is your proof,” Cullen said.
The Clinton connection brings along some baggage for McAuliffe, as it could remind Virginians of some of the fundraising and presidential pardon scandals of the 1990s.
Yet the Clintons’ star power is undeniable, and McAuliffe has embraced it fully. Hillary Clinton hosted a fundraiser for McAuliffe at her Washington home in September, did one in New York on Tuesday and was scheduled to headline another in McLean Saturday evening.
And, as the Los Angeles Times first reported, she will be the guest of honor at a pricey McAuliffe fundraiser in Beverly Hills Oct. 30. The event will be hosted by major Democratic donor Haim Saban and his wife and, according to the Times, will cost $15,000 per person and $25,000 per couple to attend.
Bill Clinton has also done fundraisers for McAuliffe and is widely expected to campaign for his old friend before Election Day.