Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton have their own separate circles of personal friends and political advisers. But confidants say the McAuliffes are the rare individuals who cross into both spheres, part of a genuine friendship that is unusual at the highest level of politics.
The two couples are “as close to family as it can be without being blood, and it may even be blood by osmosis after all the time they’ve spent next to each other,” said John Morgan, a lawyer who co-hosted the Orlando area fundraiser for about 30 donors. “It has transcended friendship into love.”
Bill and Hillary, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, are leveraging their popularity in an all-out push to help McAuliffe win the governorship. On Sunday, Bill kicked off a four-day, nine-city tour of Virginia with McAuliffe, while Hillary will raise money for him this week in California.
“I love Terry McAuliffe — and his wife and his five kids,” Bill Clinton said Sunday night at a Hampton rally. “I’d be here if he were 50 points behind instead of about to be your next governor.”
The relationship carries political rewards and risks for both families. If McAuliffe wins the Nov. 5 election, the Clintons will have a trusted ally controlling one of the most important presidential swing states. But McAuliffe’s actions as governor would also reflect upon the Clintons, positively or negatively, far more than the actions of any other officeholder. McAuliffe’s history of using his deep political connections to benefit his private business portfolio would be put under a microscope again if Hillary Clinton runs for the White House.
Would McAuliffe, who has never held public office, emerge from the Clintons’ shadow or still be subordinate to them? How would he balance the interests of Virginia with the interests of the Clintons when they inevitably conflict? And would his legacy always be seen through a what-does-it-mean-for-Hillary prism?
“Terry is basically bought and paid for by the Clintons right now,” said Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising PAC, the leading Republican group attacking Hillary Clinton in anticipation of her 2016 campaign. “If Terry’s governorship is beset with scandal or any number of other things that happen, that’s going to have a real negative reflection on the Clintons.”
Miller said that a Gov. McAuliffe would stand as a reminder of the transactional relationships he helped nurture during the Bill Clinton presidency, when McAuliffe became one of the most successful fundraisers in political history. McAuliffe authored what became known as the “Lincoln Bedroom Memo,” which sparked controversy by offering special White House access to Clinton’s top campaign contributors.