McAuliffe was no longer smiling.
“. . . that you don’t have the relevant experience to be governor,” Todd said, “and that you’re a man in a hurry, who’s willing to use political connections, sometimes in very high places, to take shortcuts.
McAuliffe’s jaw tightened, and for a moment he was silent.
“I’m a young man who, uh, grew up in Syracuse,” he began, even though, at 56 years old, and as Virginia’s Democratic candidate for governor, he was not so young anymore.
McAuliffe gazed at the audience, then turned toward the moderator and did what he has always done when faced with adversity: He stepped past it, apparently oblivious to its danger, and began the big sell, his words tumbling forth in a rush of enthusiasm.
“I started my first business when I was 14,” McAuliffe said, then referred to his involvement “in a number of businesses since that time,” including “chairman of a bank by the age of 30” and building “thousands of homes.”
As governor, he said, “I want to bring that business approach, that business experience.” Now came the chance to lash back: His Republican opponent, he said, had spent “most of his career on a social ideological agenda.”
“You cannot grow an economy by putting walls up around Virgin — ”
After 90 seconds and 298 words, the moderator cut him off. McAuliffe had answered the question while sidestepping its crux: that depiction of him as an operator? A cheerleader? A man in a hurry?
And now his time was up.
‘Secret to his success’
Four years after losing his first quest to become Virginia’s governor, his first campaign for public office, McAuliffe is back, invoking the breezy shorthand of a corporate CEO to tell voters he wants to “diversify” the economy, “create jobs” and take the commonwealth “to the next level.”
Yet McAuliffe’s reasons for seeking Virginia’s most powerful seat don’t answer larger questions looming over his candidacy: Why did he forsake his life as a master Democratic fundraiser and acclaimed political operative? Why does he want to preside over a state in which he has lived less than half his life?
What compelled McAuliffe, beginning in his 50s, to become a candidate for public office? Why, after suffering a humiliating defeat, is he back for more?
McAuliffe has always embodied an energetic mix of ambition and resilience, possessing a gale-force optimism that seems to allow him to tune out what he does not want to hear.
Dismiss him as a flamboyant, self-promoting huckster, as critics have; brand him a carpetbagger, influence peddler and liar; even trounce him at the polls. No matter. McAuliffe rolls on, virtually everything he says punctuated by a sunny exclamation point.