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NEWS ANALYSIS

Terry McAuliffe Borrows From Obama's Winning Strategy in Gubernatorial Bid

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 6, 2009

RICHMOND -- Terry McAuliffe was stung when Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, which he oversaw, fell to Barack Obama last year. But over the course of the campaign, it appears he took careful notes.

Now, as McAuliffe finds himself in a hard-fought race for governor of Virginia, he is employing many of the same tactics his opponent used successfully just a year earlier. He is reaching out to new voters, exploiting new technology and casting himself as a fresh-faced outsider. He is not taking any region for granted, is targeting African Americans and is swarming communities with paid organizers. It all bears a surprising likeness to the strategies Obama used so effectively in 2008.

In his matchup against Brian Moran and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds for the Democratic nomination, McAuliffe is even replicating Obama's use of a one-word campaign theme. For Obama, it was "change." McAuliffe's mantra is "jobs," a word he says over and over.

To some degree, what McAuliffe is doing is what any modern campaign does: adopting and expanding on the latest innovations.

"All the social media, organizing and Internet fundraising that Obama did is becoming standard in campaigns, and I think in the Virginia race, McAuliffe has probably done it better than anybody," said Jennifer E. Duffy, editor of the Cook Political report.

But McAuliffe's use of the tools that undid the Clinton campaign carries a special irony, given that it was only weeks between when he fell prey to those tactics and adopted them himself.

"I would think if anybody could learn what Hillary did wrong, it's Terry," said Michael Mohler, president of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters Association, which recently endorsed McAuliffe.

McAuliffe has been reluctant to acknowledge the similarities between his effort and Obama's. When asked about it in a recent interview, McAuliffe initially said he didn't learn anything from the Obama campaign. Then he clarified his response by noting that he has worked on Democratic campaigns since his early 20s.

"I have a unique perspective, because I have been at the highest levels of campaigns for a lot of years," the former Democratic National Committee chairman explained. "I've learned from winning campaigns. I've learned from losing campaigns."

From the earliest hours of his unexpected bid for Virginia's highest office, McAuliffe began adopting the ideas of his former rival. He had his supporters sign up so they would be "the first to know" by text message when he officially entered the race in January. Obama employed the same device last summer to collect hundreds of thousands of cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses by having supporters sign up to be alerted about his choice of a running mate.

During the Democratic primaries in February 2008, Obama made headlines by airing an ad during the Super Bowl in more than a dozen states. McAuliffe followed suit during this year's Super Bowl, buying a 30-second spot in the Hampton Roads market at the end of the third quarter.

There's even an echo of Obama's iconic logo in the one selected by McAuliffe. Obama used a rising sun. McAuliffe's is the shape of Virginia filled with sunshinelike rays.


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