By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe kicked off his campaign for governor of Virginia yesterday, vowing to create more jobs than any other governor in the country.
In a day-long swing that had the trappings of a well-financed campaign, McAuliffe told audiences that Virginia "needs to think bold" and "out of the box" to grow the economy and keep taxes low.
"As governor, I will make it my job to protect your job," McAuliffe said at a town hall meeting in Richmond. "I believe in government, like business, you have to have a plan to be successful."
McAuliffe pledged to invest in renewable energy, lay the groundwork for the creation of high-speed rail between Virginia's cities and push aggressively to lure companies to the state.
"I have created jobs my whole life," said McAuliffe, noting that he started his first business at age 14. "I have balanced budgets my whole life. Most importantly, I have brought people together."
McAuliffe, whose staff includes veterans of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's 2005 campaign and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's unsuccessful 2008 presidential run, is competing against former delegate Brian J. Moran (Alexandria) and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) for the nomination. The winner of the June primary will face Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) in November.
McAuliffe's entry into the race, which had been expected for months, sets the stage for the most fiercely contested battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in more than two decades. With professional and personal contacts across the country, McAuliffe is expected to raise tens of millions of dollars for his campaign.
"We are going to have probably the biggest ground game you will ever see in a gubernatorial race anywhere in the country," McAuliffe said, noting that he plans to deploy "dozens and dozens" of field organizers across the state.
After a town hall meeting in Hampton Roads, McAuliffe unveiled the first radio ad of the campaign. In the 60-second ad, McAuliffe says he is best suited to carry on the legacies of Kaine (D) and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the previous governor.
In Richmond, McAuliffe began to flesh out his views on policy. He vowed to implement the state's death penalty law and said he supports giving gay men and lesbians "full contractual rights." He said he also wants to weaken the Dillon Rule by making it easier for local governments to pass laws and raise taxes. On transportation, McAuliffe said there needs to be "a discussion" about new revenue.
"If you are looking for a governor who is going to do the same old thing, I'm not your guy," he said.
In a statement, Deeds welcomed McAuliffe into the race and said he looked forward to "an open and honest discussion of how we keep Virginia moving forward and get our economy back on track." Moran, meanwhile, stressed the successful completion of his recent statewide tour to line up endorsements. On Monday, nearly every elected official and Democratic leader in Arlington, a crucial source of votes in a Democratic primary, endorsed Moran.
"Brian has statewide support because he has a record of statewide leadership," said Mame Reiley, director of Moran's campaign.
Del. Franklin P. Hall (D-Richmond) is so far the only state officeholder to get behind McAuliffe.
"It is kind of hard to say no to the man who gave your son his first job right out of college," said Hall, noting that McAuliffe hired his son, Franklin Jr., at the DNC several years ago.
But McAuliffe's lack of experience in Virginia politics remains a big hurdle for his candidacy. In the Richmond meeting, Bob Hiett accused McAuliffe of purposely dropping his G's when he speaks to suggest a southern accent.
McAuliffe responded, "I don't think anyone who has lived in a state for nearly 20 years, raising five children, or who has spent any amount of time in Virginia, doesn't understand the issues here in Virginia."
He then noted that Deeds is the only candidate for governor born in Virginia.
"I was born in Syracuse, New York. I am proud of where I was born," McAuliffe told Hiett. "But I am a Virginian."