Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) gestures during his final State of the Commonwealth speech in January 2018. (Timothy C. Wright/For The Washington Post)

Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe is heading to Iowa next week, hoping to fire up fellow Democrats ahead of November’s elections and maybe win friends as a potential 2020 presidential contender.

“None of us can afford to sit on the sidelines when the heart and soul of our country is on the line,” McAuliffe said in a written statement announcing his plans to visit Des Moines on Tuesday. “That’s why I’m coming to Iowa to make sure our Democratic grassroots are fired up and ready for this fight.”

Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state, could play a key role for Democrats as they seek to take back Midwestern states that helped President Trump in the 2016 election. The state has two highly competitive races for Congress as well as a contest for governor that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates as a “toss-up.”

Fred Hubbell, a retired businessman and Democratic donor, is trying to unseat Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), the former lieutenant governor who succeeded Terry Branstad after he was named U.S. ambassador to China.

This year’s political battles aside, Iowa is the destination for anyone running for president — something McAuliffe had widely been thought to be mulling since before he wrapped up his term in January.

“People want to talk 2020, I say forget it,” he tweeted on Sept. 3. “Let’s focus on 2018.”

McAuliffe served four years as governor and was prohibited by the state constitution from seeking back-to-back terms. He has spent the past few months campaigning for Democrats in Illinois, Michigan, Kansas and Virginia.

On Tuesday, McAuliffe is to speak at a Des Moines phone bank, launching a number of events — dubbed “All Hands on Deck” — that will allow volunteers who work the phones and knock on doors to connect with Democratic leaders.

“We have been saying for months that the 2018 midterms are the most consequential election of our lifetimes,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said in a written statement. “And we need all the help we can get, which is why we are so excited to launch the ‘All Hands on Deck’ series with a battle-tested leader like Governor McAuliffe. Governor McAuliffe understands better than most the difference a Governor with strong, people-first values can make for working families.”

Republican National Committee spokesman Garren Shipley dismissed the notion that McAuliffe is what Iowa and the nation needs.

“We’re certain that if Iowa Democrats are looking for suspect economic development deals and all-but-nonexistent due diligence, combined with far-left policy, they could do no better than Terry McAuliffe,” he said. He was referring to a failed economic development deal in Appomattox, Va., and to McAuliffe’s effort to restore voting rights to 200,000 felons, initially through an order that mistakenly covered 132 sex offenders still in custody.

But Al Womble, Democratic chairman of Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, said he admired McAuliffe for his relentless push to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, something finally accomplished under his successor, incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Womble would like to see Iowa follow suit to make the federal-state health-care program for the poor available to more people.

“I’m a working man, a union man. I appreciate his outlook on things,” Womble said in an interview. “When we have somebody come into the state who understands our values, who will help us fight for those values, that’s important.”