The race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination got a slight jolt this week, thanks in part to a tweet from former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D) on the subject of public corruption.

For Virginia Democrats, it could also be an omen of the campaign to come.

Carroll Foy, who resigned from the state House to run for the nomination full-time, retweeted a letter to the editor that endorsed her promise to clean up Virginia government. Anti-corruption campaigns aren’t regular features of statewide campaigns in the commonwealth. But that doesn’t mean all is above board and squeaky clean.

Corruption allegations have dogged the likes of former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) on down to an entire county board of supervisors. In a report released in November, the Coalition for Integrity ranked Virginia’s ethics regulations and enforcement 46th in the nation.

That’s good. Wonky fodder for a campaign that wants to make a big point about clean, accountable government.

But Carroll Foy’s tweet wasn’t wonky. It was personal:

There’s a reason why people believe that Virginia politics are corrupt. Even my opponent, Terry McAuliffe, was investigated by the FBI.
As Governor, I will root out the corruption in Richmond.

That left a mark. Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who has endorsed McAuliffe, responded with:

Virginia Democrats don’t tear each other down by repeating Republican smears. We build each other UP.

That’s a bit rich coming from Lucas. Back in December, Lucas said Carroll Foy and her fellow gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) might make fine choices for the nomination at “the appropriate time.” Meaning not now, and perhaps not ever.

Lucas got back up from Richmond Mayor and former McAuliffe cabinet secretary Levar Stoney (D). Stoney said Carroll Foy’s jab “is not the way we treat fellow Dems.”

Which may come as a surprise to some Democrats who’ve been around long enough to recall the intraparty jabs and much worse thrown in Doug Wilder’s way in 1984 and 1985 when he sought the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor (masterfully chronicled in Dwayne Yancey’s “When Hell Froze Over”).

It may also surprise McAuliffe, who has taken plenty of haymakers from progressives over the course of his career.

In 2009, progressive icon Ralph Nader accused McAuliffe of trying to bribe him in 2004 to stay off the ballot in key presidential states.

McAuliffe was also the subject of a 2013 Mother Jones piece in which he was castigated for his “brazen mixing of his campaign fundraising activity and attempts to enrich himself personally.”

During that campaign, Republican Ken Cuccinelli II tagged McAuliffe with the “Tricky Terry” label — possibly following the suggestion of University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, who said one tactic Republicans should use against McAuliffe would be to wrap him in “seediness.”

And, yes, there was an inconclusive FBI investigation into McAuliffe’s 2013 campaign finances.

Stitch it all together, and it’s easy to see why Carroll Foy’s anti-corruption push has a definite anti-McAuliffe edge.

More broadly, though, this little dust-up on Twitter reinforces the notion that McAuliffe won’t be able to coast to a nomination victory. He will have to fight for it, probably harder than he wants or Democrats can afford.

That raises the possibility of a split between the party’s more establishment and progressive wings. McAuliffe squeaked by in 2013. This year? Voters have a wealth of candidates on the Democratic side who don’t have McAuliffe’s baggage — or his experience.

McAuliffe’s task, then, is getting the nomination without igniting a feud that ends with a portion of the party going fishing on Election Day rather than bothering to vote.

If he pulls that off, it may go down as the greatest trick of McAuliffe’s political career.

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