Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton family friend and political supporter, said that he sees "no need" for Hillary Rodham Clinton to begin her 2016 presidential campaign right away and that she benefits by avoiding a bruising Democratic primary challenge.
"Listen, I'm very happy with the situation," McAuliffe said Saturday in an interview with The Washington Post. "She doesn't have to get in right away. It's saving a lot of time, effort and money. Let the Republicans all get in."
McAuliffe, who served as national chairman of Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and as the Democratic National Committee chairman during the 2004 presidential primaries, said he knows from experience that launching a campaign early can be draining. He pointed out that in the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton did not announce his candidacy until October 1991.
"Having done this for many years, the second you get in and open up a campaign account, let me tell you, that money just goes out the door," McAuliffe said. "There’s no need at this point. We’re in a very good position, so she can take her time on her timetable, which is spectacular."
McAuliffe, who once sat on the board of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, defended the charitable foundation's decision to accept donations from foreign governments.
“If the biggest attack on Hillary’s going to be that she raised too much money for her charity, okay, I’ll take that," he said. "No one’s alleging anything beyond that she raised money and people gave her money and foreign governments gave her money. At the end of the day, that’s fine. It went to a charity. It helped a lot of people."
McAuliffe's comments come amid much discussion in Democratic circles about Clinton's timetable for what her allies think is a certain 2016 White House run. Clinton's team has signaled that she is likely to begin raising money as early as April but may delay aggressive campaigning until the summer. Some Democrats believe she is wise to hang back and wait, while others want to see her fighting now to erase any impressions that she may be taking the Democratic nomination for granted.
At this stage in the 2008 campaign, the Democratic field already had taken shape, with announced candidacies of Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, among others. But this time, Clinton does not face a serious primary threat.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has insisted that she is not running, despite an effort by some liberal activists to draft her into the race, while Vice President Biden is not actively preparing for a candidacy, although he has not shut the door on a run. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former senator Jim Webb (Va.) have been making waves and visiting early primary states, but none has launched a campaign.
"People are going to make their decision," McAuliffe said. "If they run, they run. If they don’t, they don’t."
McAuliffe said he disagreed with the view of some Democrats that a competitive primary campaign would be good for Clinton and would help prepare her for the rigors of the general election.
"What’s going to go on on the Republican side is going to be intense and tough," McAuliffe said. "I wouldn’t want to see that on the Democratic side — of course not, if we can avoid it. It's going to be a long, tough slog for them."
McAuliffe was asked to assess the early moves of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has locked up many of the Republican Party's prominent donors and policy thinkers in the two months since he formed a leadership PAC to explore a bid.
"None of that surprised me," McAuliffe said. "At the end of the day, it’s still hard because of, obviously, the negative issues around his brother, the issues of the war in Iraq and all that. That's still going to linger out there. You’ve got to remember, when President Obama took office, you think of the job losses that occurred under President [George W.] Bush’s term and contrast that to the millions of jobs created under President Obama. I’ll take that contrast."
McAuliffe continued, "Jeb Bush, who wants to pretend he can distance himself, cannot distance himself from that failed economic record and failed foreign policy record. All of the issues that we had before will come back to [the] fore.”
As for what role McAuliffe may play in a Clinton 2016 campaign, he said he would be her loudest cheerleader in Richmond.
"I have the job I’ve always dreamed of," McAuliffe said. "I love being governor, as you probably can tell." In 2007 and 2008, he said, "I spent 500 days on the road. I can’t do that again. I’ve got a job here."
"You know what?" he continued, "to be honest with you, I’m personal friends with them. They want me to be successful. Honestly, [the] president calls all the time. I talk to Hillary all the time. They want me to be successful as a governor. I think that’s the best thing I can do."
He said that Virginia is poised once more to be a top general election battleground and that he would focus on helping Clinton win his home state. McAuliffe is preparing for state legislative races this year and is trying to help Democrats regain control of the state Senate.
"I'm laying the groundwork and putting all the pieces in place for '15 to get my Senate back," McAuliffe said. "But that same team I’m putting in place and operations will be a set-up to make sure that [in 2016] Virginia’s blue."