Dorothy McAuliffe, the wife of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said she is weighing a run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in the 10th Congressional District next year.
“I really am very seriously considering it,” Dorothy McAuliffe said in a brief interview Tuesday morning as she visited a Manassas middle school in the 10th District, where the McAuliffes maintain a home.
She quickly added that she enjoys serving as first lady of Virginia. “I currently have the best platform in the world,” she said. “I love my work being part of this administration.”
She declined to say when she plans to make a decision.
In recent weeks, McAuliffe has called several Democratic state senators as well as Virginia’s four Democratic congressmen — Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Gerald E. Connolly, Don Beyer and A. Donald McEachin — to seek their input, according to several people familiar with her deliberations.
If she opts to enter the race, experts say, the first lady would have high name recognition and a built-in fundraising network. The McAuliffes’ close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton would attract donors and advisers but could deter voters who want a fresh face in public office, they say.
“What McAuliffe offers is a brand name that would be known across the district,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “And few challengers on the Democratic side would be able to offer that, if any.”
McAuliffe would be launching her first bid for elected office just as her husband is relinquishing his perch. The governor’s term expires on Jan. 13, 2018; he is prohibited by the state Constitution from seeking a second consecutive term.
The governor is fairly popular among state voters — something that could benefit his wife. A poll released February by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University found 55 percent of those surveyed approved of the job that the governor is doing — the highest level in a Wason Center poll since his term began in January 2014. More than half of respondents also said they thought Virginia was headed in the right direction.
Four Democrats are currently vying for the party’s nomination in the 2018 race.
Three have filed the paperwork to raise money: state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton, a former prosecutor from Loudoun County; Lindsey Davis Stover, a former Obama administration official; and Dan Helmer, an Army veteran and Rhodes Scholar. Kimberly Adams, past president of the Fairfax County teachers union, has also said she will run for the nomination.
The day after Wexton announced that she would run, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved the 10th District race to its “toss-up” list, signaling a competitive contest.
Nationally, Democrats are targeting the Northern Virginia congressional district, the only one in the D.C. metropolitan area held by a Republican. The district spans the Washington suburbs of Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties and the conservative strongholds of Clarke and Frederick counties.
For years, Democrats have nursed hopes of winning the district, but former congressman Frank Wolf’s 34-year hold on the seat kept it out of their reach for three decades. Comstock, his protegee, is trying to maintain that control. She first won election in 2014 and was reelected last year, defeating Democratic challenger LuAnn Bennett by six percentage points.
Comstock won a second term despite President Trump’s unpopularity in her district, which Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points — more than twice the Democrat’s margin in the state.
John Whitbeck, chairman of the state GOP who lost a 2014 special election for state Senate to Wexton, said that Dorothy McAuliffe would be a “formidable candidate” but that Comstock would still win.
“There’s not a single Democrat candidate, no matter how much money they spend, who can beat Barbara Comstock,” he said Monday. “It’s not going to happen.”
A Dorothy McAuliffe campaign for Congress would capitalize on her work expanding the state’s public school breakfast program, her signature achievement as first lady.
She also served on a committee charged with studying the system for testing and storing rape kits after the state discovered a backlog of untested kits. Last year, she helped Brian Moran, the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, and his team as they finalized a compromise on gun legislation.
McAuliffe succeeded Bennett as chair of the Potomac School’s board of trustees and headed a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign for the private school in McLean.
“I’ve been an opening act for Dorothy before and found it to be very successful,” Bennett said. “She’s the closer.”
As a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last summer, McAuliffe cast Virginia’s votes on the floor.
“She knows how to get along with everyone,” said Del. Kathleen J. Murphy (D-Fairfax), who lost a 2013 House of Delegates race to Comstock. “She’s been in politics a long time, and she knows how the game is played.” Murphy added that she is also a fan of Wexton.
McAuliffe, 53, earned a BA in political science from Catholic University and a law degree at Georgetown University before practicing banking and securities law for several years, according to the first lady’s official biography.
The McAuliffes, who have five children, have had a home in McLean for 25 years.