Many Democrats see McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign as the ground floor of a would-be Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential run — with his Virginia operation serving as a farm team in a critical swing state and donors believing they can curry favor with her by helping McAuliffe.
But those taking this approach are doing so without Hillary Clinton’s direct blessing, and people close to her are trying to quash the notion, believing she could be damaged if her political strength is measured by the McAuliffe campaign.
“I can’t tell you how many people inside Hillary’s world are furious with that,” said one Clinton insider, who like some others interviewed for this article requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “It is not a trial run. . . . This is not a campaign-in-waiting.”
As former Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell (D), a Clinton loyalist, put it: “If Hillary chooses to run, she doesn’t need any farm team.”
In an off year a long way from when Clinton would need to decide whether to make another run for president, 2013 figured to be a quiet time for the former first lady. But this year’s two major political races — for Virginia governor and for New York mayor — are both posing challenges for Clinton.
Anthony Weiner, whose mayoral campaign is ensnared in a sexting scandal, is married to Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide and confidante. The further they sink into scandal, the more problematic Abedin’s connection to Clinton becomes.
The effort to distance McAuliffe from Clinton’s orbit was well underway even before last week’s revelation that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating GreenTech, the electric-car firm he co-founded. Also under investigation is Gulf Coast Funds Management, a company run by Hillary Clinton’s brother Anthony Rodham that processes visas for foreign investors in GreenTech.
For McAuliffe, his ties to the Clintons — for whom he has raised more than $400 million — are a double-edged sword. Those connections have helped McAuliffe raise far more money than his GOP opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), but they also give Republicans an opening to remind voters of scandals involving McAuliffe during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Bill Clinton has appeared at a handful of fundraisers for McAuliffe, including the March event at Morgan’s mansion in the Orlando area, and is expected to do more events. The former president also made a personal donation of $100,000 to McAuliffe in March and could well appear in ads before November.