McAuliffe's Prowess As Fundraiser Grabs Spotlight in Va. Race

Terry McAuliffe's background as one of the most prolific fundraisers the Democratic Party has ever seen could prove to be a liability in his run to be governor of Virginia.
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2008

RICHMOND -- With his booming voice, quick wit and gregarious nature, Terry McAuliffe established a reputation as one of the world's best political fundraisers, soaking up hundreds of millions of dollars for Democratic causes and candidates.

Now, after spending much of his adult life soliciting donations for others -- most notably, former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- McAuliffe is considering using those prodigious skills and extensive contacts for himself, as a candidate for governor of Virginia. McAuliffe's potential candidacy has created what Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, calls "the perfect fundraising storm."

Virginia is a state with no limits on how much an individual, corporation or union can donate to a candidate running for state office, and some say McAuliffe could wage an $80 million campaign -- triple what Kaine spent four years ago -- if he is the Democratic nominee.

"I think the sky is the limit in terms of Terry McAuliffe's fundraising potential in Virginia," Toner said. "I suspect there will be a lot more interest in Virginia politics in Manhattan and Palm Beach than there usually is."

Already, McAuliffe is showing what's possible. Consider the courtship of Randal J. Kirk, a billionaire who has long been one of the biggest political donors in the state.

Brian J. Moran of Alexandria and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath, two Virginia Democrats running for governor, spent years wooing Kirk. But in mid-October, a newcomer to the Virginia political scene, McAuliffe, stopped by Kirk's Radford home to chat up his own potential bid.

Kirk, who has given Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) $660,000 since January 2006, had not met McAuliffe before. Yet they got along so well during their three-hour lunch that Kirk broke out the moonshine.

"I wanted him to know where he was," Kirk recalled.

During their meeting, McAuliffe did not ask Kirk for a campaign contribution. But McAuliffe made such an impression that Kirk did something a few weeks later that he said he had not done before: He called McAuliffe and pledged his support in advance of a contested primary.

"He has an astonishingly strong personality," said Kirk, a biotech and investment mogul. "When you meet someone, you often get a gut feeling whether this is an integrated personality. Are they the same with Joe Blow as they are with me? To me, this guy just seems utterly consistent."

McAuliffe has said he won't announce until Jan. 7 whether he will officially enter the race, but his efforts in recent weeks to start locking up large donors have reshaped the fight for the Democratic nomination.

This month, Moran resigned from the House of Delegates so he could campaign and raise money full time, a direct result of McAuliffe's considering jumping into the race.

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