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A Big Name Jumps Into Va. Politics and Makes Waves

Deeds and Moran are raising money, wooing Democratic activists and building staffs. Those staffers have been drawing up plans for a campaign that would in part center on who is the more electable Democrat against Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, the likely GOP nominee for governor.

McAuliffe, a wealthy retired businessman who became a Washington insider in the 1990s because of his close ties to President Bill Clinton, would change the race overnight.

During his tenure as chairman, McAuliffe raised tens of millions of dollars for the party. He also oversaw fundraising efforts for Clinton's 1996 reelection. McAuliffe would bring that same fundraising prowess to a gubernatorial race, turning the contest into a pitched television advertising battle that would, given McAuliffe's profile, get a lot of media attention.

Unlike Deeds and Moran, McAuliffe might have little to lose by entering the race. Moran is giving up his House seat to make the run, meaning he will be out a job if he does not win.

Deeds doesn't have to give up his Senate seat to run for governor. But if he loses, he would have a hard time making another bid for higher office because he would have lost two consecutive statewide campaigns.

But Deeds would probably be the early front-runner in a three-way race for governor. Moran and McAuliffe are both from Northern Virginia, potentially splitting the vote in that region. Deeds would look to run up big vote totals downstate, where Moran's and McAuliffe's northern accents could prove a tough sell.

(Deeds staff members appear giddy over speculation McAuliffe will run; Moran staffers are a little uneasy.)

A McAuliffe candidacy holds the potential to shake up the race in other ways.

A three-way fight among white men might present the perfect opportunity for an African American or female candidate to jump in.

If one did -- and if he or she had access to personal wealth or an ability to raise money -- that could become a major factor in the race. When a black man and a woman were on the ballot for the Feb. 12 Democratic primary, African Americans made up 30 percent of the electorate and women 57 percent, according to exit polls.

A big unknown is what kind of reception McAuliffe would receive from Democratic activists and voters. Virginians have a history of skepticism about candidates who don't have broad ties to the state. Although he is well versed on national issues, McAuliffe doesn't have a record of addressing Virginia issues. Moran has spent the past month unveiling his policies on the environment, government spending and public safety.

Some of McAuliffe's perceived personality flaws might also be a hurdle. Some Democrats say McAuliffe, a well-known presence on cable television news programs, might come across as too arrogant and rambunctious for a Virginia pol. But he would probably have the money to try to craft his own narrative to change some minds.

Most importantly, a McAuliffe bid would send a signal that the Virginia Democratic Party is maturing.

After taking a beating during the 1990s, the party has spent much of this decade focused on winning, allowing Kaine and former governor Warner to redefine what it means to be a Virginia Democrat.

If McAuliffe ran, Deeds and Moran would have to scrap plans to battle over who was more electable. Instead, the Democratic race could turn into a knock-down fight over who best represents Democratic values, provoking a discussion that all strong families have to engage in at some point.

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