RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday brushed off Democrats’ failure to win the state Senate, noting that the GOP-dominated House can block his agenda no matter who controls the upper chamber.
“I wanted to win the Senate. I gave it all I have,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you know, it wasn’t going to make a difference really one way or the other. I still have only 34 Democrats in the House of Delegates.”
The comments were McAuliffe’s first since Election Day, when Republicans held their 21-19 advantage in the Senate. Democrats could have grabbed control by flipping just one seat because Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam presides over the chamber and has the power to break most ties.
Throughout the enormously expensive Senate battle, Democrats and Republicans alike portrayed the outcome as critical to advancing or blocking McAuliffe’s legislative goals. McAuliffe barnstormed the state ahead of Election Day and solicited millions in out-of-state donations. In the aftermath, McAuliffe acknowledged that even with the leverage of a Democratic Senate, the overwhelmingly Republican House stood ready to kill his priorities.
For that reason, he said he would focus on issues with bipartisan appeal such as economic development, education and veterans’ services.
“I said from Day One it wasn’t going to make much change,” McAuliffe told reporters outside an event in the Richmond suburbs to promote adoption. “It would be important. I wanted to win it. We worked hard on it. But as it relates to legislation, it doesn’t really change anything.”
What seemed to have been most at stake in the elections was political momentum, with the winning party able to claim that voters in this key presidential swing state were leaning its way one year ahead of 2016. McAuliffe has a personal stake in the presidential race as a close friend of and former fundraiser for Democratic contender Hillary Rodham Clinton. He helped lead her 2008 bid.
But the former Democratic National Committee chairman dismissed any link between the Virginia Senate and White House contests — even as he made the case that Democrats’ investment in data this year will pay off in future elections.
“I never subscribed [to the theory] that what happened this year had anything to do with ’16,” he said. “Having been involved in presidential politics since 1980, I’ve never been in a presidential campaign [in which] someone said, ‘What happened last year in the state legislative [races]?’ ”