McAuliffe had spent much of the past year campaigning and raising money to help Democrats win majorities in the state House of Delegates and Senate in November. The former governor’s unusually active role in the elections — assumed when his successor was sidelined by a blackface scandal, and maintained even after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) largely recovered — has fed speculation that McAuliffe was mulling a comeback.
Virginia is the only state that bars governors from serving back-to-back terms. But governors are free to run again after a break. In modern times, Virginia has had just one two-term governor: Mills Godwin, who served from 1966 to 1970 as a Democrat and from 1974 to 1978 as a Republican.
As McAuliffe barnstormed the state on behalf of Democratic candidates this fall, attending 131 events, he never ruled out the possibility of his own return to the campaign trail.
McAuliffe spokesman Jake Rubenstein declined to comment Friday on whether the PAC hire is tied to any ambitions for a second stint in the Executive Mansion.
Two veteran members of the Legislative Black Caucus saw the move as a welcome sign.
“I hope that means he’s running,” said Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), treasurer of the PAC. “When I asked him this summer [to run], he kept saying to me, ‘Let’s flip Virginia blue first and then we can have a conversation.’ ”
Del. Luke E. Torian (D-Prince William) said the hire “may be some very exciting news,” although he was more circumspect about what that might mean. “The governor is always preparing himself for the next opportunity to be supportive of the Democratic Party,” Torian said.
Some younger and more liberal Democrats have privately grumbled at the optics of a potential McAuliffe run: a white man seeking a return to the governor’s mansion at a time when at least four black Democrats — two of them women — are publicly considering bids of their own.
One of the four, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), said the state would not welcome McAuliffe’s return because his tenure was marked by contentious relations with Republicans who then controlled the Capitol.
“Virginia voters just showed they are happy with the state’s leadership,” Fairfax said, referring to the November election. “They want to continue to move forward and go higher and not return to the negative politics of the past.”
Fairfax has praised McAuliffe’s tenure in the past. But McAuliffe was the first Virginia leader to demand Fairfax’s resignation in February after two women accused the lieutenant governor of sexually assaulting them in the early 2000s. Fairfax maintains the encounters were consensual.
McAuliffe swooped in to help the Democrats’ 2019 election effort after Northam, Fairfax and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) were consumed by separate scandals. In the span of an extraordinary week in February, Northam and Herring admitted to wearing blackface as young men, and Fairfax’s accusers came forward. All three remained in office, but their ability to raise money and lead their party through a critical election cycle was in serious doubt.
As it turned out, Northam reemerged to stump for candidates and donated $1.5 million to their efforts. Fairfax and Herring, both considered front-runners for governor before February, have not ruled out moving ahead with their bids.
This year’s election gave Democrats — already in possession of the governor’s mansion — full control of state government for the first time in a generation. Democrats picked up six seats in the House, giving them a 55-to-45 advantage. They flipped two seats in the Senate, resulting in a 21-to-19 edge.
“I am tremendously excited to have Chris on board at Common Good where we will help ensure our new Democratic majorities are able to deliver on the big progressive legislative promises that we successfully campaigned on,” McAuliffe said in a statement about Bolling’s hiring that did not mention a potential run. “Chris’s leadership at Common Good will help ensure Virginia Democrats seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to substantially increase funding for education, lower health care costs, expand voting rights, enact common sense gun safety laws, and much more. Our time is now.”
Bolling, who led the state party since 2017 and previously served as political director for Northam and for McAuliffe’s inaugural committee, noted McAuliffe’s frenetic stumping this year for Virginia Democrats.
“I am proud to work with him to ensure that we deliver progressive legislative accomplishments we campaigned on,” Bolling’s statement said. “Common Good will harness the Governor’s famous ‘sleep when you are dead’ energy to ensure bold, progressive change in the Commonwealth and take Virginia to the next level.”
McAuliffe, a businessman who was a record-smashing fundraiser for his close friends Bill and Hillary Clinton, had never held public office when he edged out then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in 2013 to become the state’s 72nd governor.
Although he ran as a bipartisan dealmaker, McAuliffe never won over the GOP-controlled legislature, which blocked his marquee campaign pledge to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He vetoed a record 120 bills and relied on executive orders to achieve some of his biggest wins, including restoring voting rights to 173,000 felons who had completed their sentences.
He also focused on economic development, leading 35 foreign trade missions and attracting roughly $20 billion in capital investment and 207,000 new jobs. He helped lay the groundwork for Amazon’s selection of Crystal City in Arlington as a headquarters site, a project state officials estimate will bring $3.2 billion in tax revenue over 20 years. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
He left office with low unemployment, positive approval ratings — and his eye on the White House. He visited early-primary states and seemed eager to tangle with President Trump, a onetime campaign donor. But McAuliffe ultimately took a pass, partly in deference to former vice president Joe Biden, a friend who occupies the same establishment lane within the party.