The Race to Richmond Terry McAuliffe
Democratic Candidate Mixes Showmanship and Political Savvy
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Few eighth-graders hire attorneys, but after the class rings didn't arrive at St. Ann's School in Syracuse, N.Y., there was Terry McAuliffe, ringing the doorbell of one of the area's most prominent litigators. That lawyer's son, Duke Kinney, remembers opening the door to find his friend and class president wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase and asking, "Is Mr. Kinney home?"
"This guy thought he was messing with an eighth-grader, but he was messing with the wrong eighth-grader," Kinney recalled recently of the salesman, who eventually delivered the rings. "The next thing you know, this eighth-grader has a letter being served to this guy from the biggest law firm in Syracuse."
Among Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidates, McAuliffe, 52, has fallen into the easy description of carnival barker, shouting for one and all to come join the fun of creating jobs, embracing alternative energy and eliminating predatory lenders.
"Shut it down!" he yelled out the open window of his hybrid Chevy Tahoe one Saturday afternoon as it rolled past a payday loan office. "Nothing gets me more excited," he said afterward. "Chicken waste and payday loans, I get excited."
A few minutes later, he grabbed the phone from a volunteer at his Herndon campaign office and boomed: "Gloria, Terry McAuliffe, how you doing?" The two dozen people in the room hushed to hear him working a potential voter.
"Man, I love you, Gloria!" he said before turning to the crowd and declaring, "She's with us!"
Come one, come all. Come join the fun. Next to Gloria's name on the call sheet, McAuliffe scribbled, "Fired up," underlining it three times.
There is a certain amount of showmanship in any political race, but those who know McAuliffe best describe a man who was a barker before the political tents ever went up in Virginia. In his personal and professional life, McAuliffe has always talked louder, moved quicker and thought bigger than most of his peers.
While his friends labored as caddies, 14-year-old McAuliffe started a driveway paving business. When they shoveled snow, he bought a snow blower. In high school, McAuliffe clinched his place as student council president by having his friends dress as Secret Service agents, climb into golf carts and escort him into the gym to the tune of "Hail to the Chief."
"It was something that [the school] had never seen before," one of those friends, Marty Salanger, recalled recently. "That sealed the deal."
In many ways, the race to the June 9 primary among McAuliffe, Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran is looking not unlike that gym. In speeches, the other candidates talk, and McAuliffe booms. Their signs sprout here and there; his bloom in clusters along major roadways. They speak about the environment; he holds events that require him to stand amid waste, wade through an algae pond and work on solar panels.
He is fond of telling the crowds that his campaign has opened 14 offices across the state, gathered more than 4,500 volunteers and made more than 550,000 phone calls -- statements that are usually followed with the words: "Incredible!" or "Unheard of!" or "Nobody has ever seen anything like this before!"