McAuliffe put his own national ambitions aside last year to fill the public role his successor in the executive mansion, Ralph Northam (D), was unable to perform because of scandal. McAuliffe’s efforts helped give Democrats their first trifecta in the state in a generation. The appropriate reward would be a clear shot at a second term in 2021.
And it seemed that plan was still intact as late as May, when McAuliffe told The Post’s Laura Vozzella that while he was devoting his energies to helping his old friend and former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, win the White House, “it’s a strong possibility that I’ll be running [for governor] again.”
That was before the protests and demonstrations following George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis cop.
It was also before Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), one of the first women to graduate from the Virginia Military Institute, and state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) officially declared gubernatorial bids.
Those protests (and the resulting calls for sweeping reforms in law enforcement, social policy, education and, in Virginia, a final reckoning with the Lost Cause mythology that bewitches so many) put McAuliffe’s plans in jeopardy.
The Carroll Foy and McClellan candidacies may have finished them off.
McAuliffe still has a reservoir of Democratic good will for his accomplishments as governor — perhaps the biggest of which was defeating Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the 2013 election. Contrary to the received wisdom in some circles, however, a second McAuliffe run — even before recent events — was never going to be a coronation.
McClellan, in particular, has always loomed as a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination. Her challenge, as it is for any Richmond-based politician, is to get known outside the region.
It was a challenge McClellan’s predecessor in the House of Delegates, Viola Baskerville, almost overcame in the 2005 race for the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination. Baskerville was the first African American woman to seek that nomination. She finished second.
The Virginia Democratic Party has changed a great deal since 2005. It’s back as the dominant force in state politics — and with a demonstrably more progressive tilt.
But the ongoing demonstrations in Richmond, both around the statue of Robert E. Lee and near City Hall, are showing that the energy and ideas that will shape Democratic politics for the rest of this year and next are not going to be found in McAuliffe’s playbook.
They demand an entirely new direction and new representation — and (sorry) Attorney General Mark R. Herring and (not sorry) Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, that “new direction” isn’t either of you. Fairfax’s personal scandal iced his statewide plans. And Herring may regret passing up a primary against Northam in 2017.
And Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s (D) obvious statewide ambitions may have met their demise in a fog of tear gas and a flash-bang grenades.
That leaves Carroll Foy, McClellan and McAuliffe as the most serious contenders.
Given the opportunity to choose between a guy who has already held the top job or one of two accomplished attorneys/legislators who are women of color? Nominating either of the women would make history in Virginia.
Democrats probably will choose to make history. And a statement: ‘Ol Virginny is deader than Jacob Marley.
Don’t feel bad for McAuliffe, though. If Biden wins, McAuliffe’s reward probably will be a Cabinet post.