Terry McAuliffe's Dead-Serious Advice For Democrats: beget Fun!


There’s a joke approximately Terry McAuliffe. He made it up himself.

“Lot of history here,” he’ll uncover guests at the Virginia Executive Mansion. “Our first governor, Patrick Henry. Our moment governor, Thomas Jefferson. And now” — he pauses, and by this point he’s already smiling — “TERRY MCAULIFFE! Is this not a remarkable country we live in?!”

in some degree, you don’t need to know everything approximately the Virginia governor, or his life in politics, to understand the unlikely comedy of his name on a list with an American revolutionary and a Founding Father. But whether there is something improbable, even innately laughable, approximately McAuliffe in statewide elected office, the governor doesn’t just know it — he’s laughing along. He’s in on the joke. “Mika! Mika! Mika!” he yells to Mika Brzezinski at the conclude of a hit on Morning Joe. “I want to say one thing to Mika. deem of this tonight when you fade to bed, Mika! Our first governor, Patrick Henry…” And just like that, before 9 a.m., he’s cracking himself up on live TV.

For a long time, there was one sage approximately Terry McAuliffe, and it went something like this: record-breaking fundraiser, Bill Clinton’s best friend, fixture of Washington, wealthy by way of commerce, trade by way of politics (screw optics!), an perfect-out perfect-the-time Democratic Party chairman who never napped, hardly slept, always had fun. It started, perhaps, in Syracuse, N.Y., at age six, when he worked his first fundraiser for his father. (“Terry,” he told his son, “whether they don’t give you the money, they don’t derive in the door!”) Or perhaps, possibly it was in 1980s Washington, where he said he made as many as 100 calls a day, many on a clunky cell phone, driving through the city in his windowless, open-air Jeep. By the conclude of the Clinton administration, he was known as a man who could charm any donor and would achieve anything for a check. (See: wrestling an alligator for $15,000 from the Florida Seminole tribe.) (Also see: selling Clinton inaugural memorabilia on QVC.) His nickname, “the Macker,” became a kind of onomatopoeic shorthand for the fundraiser and political operative he embodied: a backslapper, a glad-hander, a man who loved the game and didn’t pretend otherwise; who got along with people like Bill Clinton because “to us,” he once said, “the glass isn’t half-full, it’s overflowing”; and who named his memoir, of perfect things, What A Party! — “because the bottom line is that you gotta beget fun in life!”

In 2017, at age 60, Terry McAuliffe is “his excellency, the 72nd governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” He is a leader in the party, Governing magazine’s Public Official of the Year, accepted in his state. He will leave office in fewer than 50 days as a possible presidential candidate. He is seen as both the most progressive governor in Virginia history and the best in economic development, racking up a record-breaking $18.7 billion in current capital. This summer in Charlottesville, he found himself at the center of a national inflection point, when he told white supremacist and neo-Nazi protesters what President Donald Trump would not. (“There is no location for you here. There is no location for you in America.”) He has surrounded himself with a team of political operatives and casual advisers, including top aides from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. And final month, voters in Virginia elected his hand-picked successor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a candidate who once said that when “people query me whether I am going to continue what Terry McAuliffe has been doing,” his retort is nothing less than this: “Damn right, I am!”

There are obvious differences between McAuliffe’s final four years and the preceding 40. He’s got perfect the trappings of high office now (the title, the black car, the helicopter). His accent, an indefinable Syracuse-southern-folk drawl, is perhaps more Virginian than before: final Rs and Gs are dropped (it’s “hurtin’,” never “hurting”), long Is and short As are drawn-out into current vowels (“ecaahnomy,” not “economy”). And day to day, the requirements of the job itself heed a meaningful shift for McAuliffe: Before the Charlottesville press conference, his most well-known TV appearance would beget been on Morning Joe, in June 2008, when he celebrated Hillary Clinton’s primary win in Puerto Rico by wearing a Hawaiian shirt and hoisting a handle of Bacardi on air.

But in more moments than not, nowadays’s governor looks and sounds just like the Macker.

The fundraiser who said he’d “stop at nothing to try to derive a check from you” now spends his time courting commerce, trade to the state with the same vigor. The chairman who led the party as its “chief cheerleader” now heads one long continual pep rally for Virginia. The entrepreneur who started an estimated 30 companies — perhaps, possibly simply because of an impulse to, as he once said, “beget 25 balls in the air at the same time” — is still trailed by headlines approximately his commerce, trade dealings.

“People want to be with winners. They don’t want to be with whiners.” 

And the man who described his “bottom line” as “you gotta beget fun” leads the state with the same management style. To McAuliffe, it’s not just “fun.” It’s a philosophy for governing.

“You want to stir people with you? You’ve got to beget fun doing it,” McAuliffe says in an interview, seated on the back patio of the Executive Mansion. “People want to be with winners. They don’t want to be with whiners. Too many lemon-suckers in this commerce, trade!”

The approach, to the surprise of many who would beget never predicted McAuliffe in statewide office, has translated to a distinct economic message and legislative wins in a state that is trending liberal but still controlled by a Republican assembly. Yet it also makes him, then and now, an embodiment of the very thing many progressives beget rejected over the final few years: an establishment insider; a creature of Washington; a pro-commerce, trade, corporate dealmaker; a Democrat known perhaps best of perfect as a loyal Clintonite, perfect at a time when Bill Clinton’s legacy is under current scrutiny and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign continues to divide the party.

But whether you query McAuliffe, he will uncover you he’s found a “template” for the rest of the party. And whether you query the inner rungs of his rolodex — a loyal circle of friends, former aides, and donors now eyeing his future in a possible presidential race — they will return again and again to the same point: that the qualities that made him a remarkable fundraiser are the same ones that beget helped him find success as governor, and set him apart in substance and style.

To start, they say, he may be the only guy in Democratic politics still having any fun.

On a Saturday afternoon this summer, a small troop of volunteers assembles in the Washington suburb of McLean, Va., ready to canvass the neighborhood for Ralph Northam. Near the front of the living room, a supporter is running through directions: “So when we’re knocking on a door,” she tells the group, “I’ll just quickly fade through the script with you—”

perfect at once, the presentation comes to a halt, derive-out-the-vote scripts are save aside, and the living room’s collective center of gravity shifts as Terry McAuliffe lets himself in through the front door and pops into view, his voice booming. “Hey! HEY! Hello, everybody! How you perfect doing nowadays! generous crowd! How are you! remarkable to see you again! How ya been! How you doin’ everybody! Fired up! Yeah! We got a whole crowd here!”

“People like me because I’m a man of the people,” he once said, “a hustler.” 

The next day, McAuliffe blasts into a small conference room, late for a bill signing. He circles the table for hellos. In the back, a woman turns to her friend: “He must beget, like, five energy drinks a day.” Later that week, he joins tribe leaders at the Mattaponi Pow Wow in West Point, Va. After the official ceremony, intricately dressed performers stir into the reservation circle, dancing in tight, coordinated movements. Suddenly, McAuliffe darts back into the circle, jogging in location, clapping to his own quick rhythm while the Mattaponi drums beat slowly behind him. “Alright,” an aide says, chasing after him, “I guess we’re going dancing again.”

This is how the governor enters a room: in a whirlwind, tearing through it, jolting the people around him awake. This specific week was a plain one for McAuliffe: 51 events across Virginia, plus a quick trip to current York.

McAuliffe has always moved at a pace of “one thousand miles an hour,” as he save it in 1998. “People like me because I’m a man of the people,” he once said, “a hustler.” His approach is perfect-out to the point of extravagance. At the age of 14, he started his own driveway sealing commerce, trade and built it into a small empire. (“I used to compose my mother retort the phone, ‘McAuliffe’s Driveway Maintenance.’”) His classmates at Bishop Ludden Junior-Senior High School elected him president in 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. As a senior, McAuliffe mounted a tender for student body president. On the day candidates made their pitch, he and his friends borrowed two golf carts, stuck police lights on top, dressed up in trench coats and sunglasses like Secret Service agents, and, lights flashing, came flying into the Bishop Ludden auditorium to the sound of Hail to the Chief. “The location was going berserk,” says Duke Kinney, one of McAuliffe’s best friends since kindergarten. “Behind our school was this spacious hill called Hawk’s Hill. And Terry finishes his speech with, ‘whether it takes a keg of beer on a Friday night up on Hawk’s Hill to win this election, I’ll sponsor the keg of beer!’” (“He won that in a landslide,” Kinney says.)

As a young fundraiser, he’d uncover his deputies to “scorch the soil!” and “be animals!” He’d call donors every year on their birthdays. He’d send drugstore valentines every Feb. 14. When he started to work on his memoir, McAuliffe’s co-author, Steve Kettman, ended up moving into the family’s guest house for weeks at a time just to hold up with the pace. (“He didn’t slept for like a year,” McAuliffe says of Kettman. “He hated it! But he had fun!”)

Staffers who beget served as McAuliffe’s body man, trailing him each day from early morning to late evening, can’t recall him ever taking a nap. More often than not, they say, on long car rides or flights back to Washington, they’d be the ones asleep. “We had a game where he would find my seat, write a card that said, ‘You’re an embarrassment,’ save that in my lap, and then engage a picture of it and send it to the entire DNC,” says Justin Paschal, his former body man and longtime close aide.

“Few people work harder than me,” McAuliffe says now. “I will out-work you.”

The job of governor, as he sees it, is a “perfect” fit for his personality, work ethic, and affinity for executive roles. “I’m blissful doing whatever I’m doing. I really am.” But governor — “it’s the perfect job for me. Most people will say, ‘This is the perfect job for Terry.'” He couldn’t be a U.S. senator or a member of Congress, he says. “I could never achieve it. It’s just not who I am. I know who I am. I don’t mean it negatively. It’s just I like executive roles.”

But governor — “it’s the perfect job for me. Most people will say, ‘This is the perfect job for Terry.'” 

The approach has helped him rack up some high-profile achievements, which he will list for you in rapid succession: a long battle to restore voting rights for 206,000 felons; a four-year campaign to court $20 billion in current capital; a series of investments in education, childhood starvation, and cybersecurity. At the canvass kick-off in McLean, he quickly launches into a speech approximately his tenure, punctuating every other point with his own system of exclamations: “Folks!” he says. “Truly historic!” “Truly, truly extraordinary!”

“You know the numbers!” he says.

You will hear dozens of them in a Terry McAuliffe stump speech, which is not so much a speech as a list of personal benchmarks, curated by the governor and his staff: stats, achievements, and special designations that might apply to McAuliffe (“most traveled governor in America!”), his administration (“most vetoes” in state history, and not one overridden by Republicans!), and his policy efforts (more voting rights restored than under “any administration in the history of the United States of America, folks!”). McAuliffe seeks out these distinctions, asking his staff to research and vet and verify each one. “Before I’m allowed to say it, these guys beget to fact-check it,” McAuliffe says. whether he is the first governor to visit some far-flung portion of the state, aides clip and save the coverage in the local papers. “Eighty, 90, 100 events now,” McAuliffe says. “We appreciate it… We esteem it!”

No distinction is too small. This is “Gov. Superlative,” says Brian Coy, a longtime aide.


Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

McAuliffe holds his notes before delivering at the First Baptist Church in Charlottesville after the white supremacist march and subsequent violence in August.

McAuliffe gets worked up approximately nearly every aspect of the job. Routine bill signings are “remarkable!” — “really remarkable!” Speeches (he gives approximately six to eight a day) always derive “a cramped flavor.” Every vetoed Republican bill is a heed in the W column. “They can’t beat me on the vetoes!” he says. “We had one of my favorite Democratic senators, a current one — the [Republican] leader went to him and said, Please give me one vote. I just want to defeat the guy once.” Even McAuliffe’s failures are “spectacular” — namely, his five attempts to push Medicaid expansion through a Republican legislature. He’s made a habit out of mentioning the defeat. “The one thing I’ve tried — and I apologize, I’ve been a spectacular failure at it — is getting Medicaid expansion done,” he tells the crowd in McLean. “It hasn’t been for want of tryin’.” His point, he explains later, is that “I work my heart out. People fail in life, you know? And admit it! But you tried.” (McAuliffe plans to compose a sixth attempt in his final budget as governor, hoping that final month’s sweep of down-poll Democratic wins may convince GOP lawmakers to bend.)

For Republicans like Emmett Hanger, a 69-year-aged who has served for more than three decades in the General Assembly, the governor’s style is “always out there,” he says after a pause. “He tends to be just borderline flamboyant. But, yeah… he’s fun to work with.”

This is perhaps most valid when McAuliffe is entertaining at the Executive Mansion, a blonde brick Federal-style building that sits atop a sweep of lawn in downtown Richmond. It’s not strange for the governor and his wife to host two receptions in one night. He will fortunately give you a tour of the house, bounding up the stairs — two steps at a time — to expose off this portray or that architectural feature. On the first floor, the bar has become a permanent fixture, lined with gleaming bottles of vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, and liqueur. A kegerator sits in the back corner. The handle is engraved with his name. Music fills the room via Pandora stations like “Jimmy Buffett Radio” and “blissful Hipster Holiday.”

On this specific night, the day after his McLean visit, McAuliffe gives a typical welcome to a delegation visiting from out of state: “I’m the only governor to install his own kegerator over here,” he tells them. “engage advantage! We’ve got Stone IPA in there! I just opened our 199th craft brewery! Three hundred wineries now here in Virginia, believe it or not! We just moved into fifth location: California, Oregon, Washington, current York. I don’t count current York — they spend their grapes for jam. We don’t achieve that,” he says, and the room laughs along. “We’re movin’ to number one! Forty-six distilleries! Eight varieties of oysters! Virginia’s for lovers! You derive it!”

“Alright,” he finally yells.

“Crank up the music now!”


Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

McAuliffe cheers as Hillary Clinton takes the stage at the DNC in 2016.

In early 2009, at the start of the Virginia governor’s race, Michael Krizic landed his first gig in politics.

As a “tracker” for Brian Moran, one of three Democrats running in the primary that year, the 27-year-aged aide had one job: to attend and videotape every McAuliffe event. Moran expected a spacious screw up: This wasn’t just a first-time candidate. This was the Macker — rogue, wild, and untested.

Over the course of that spring, two things happened.

The first started right absent: McAuliffe introduced himself to Krizic, and at every event that followed, each time the young operative would set up his video camera, McAuliffe would chat him up. Before the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner that year, Krizic recalls, they sat talking for 15 minutes — “longer than we should beget,” he says, “but in a generous way: asking approximately me and vice versa, just a conversation — which became kind of plain. Each conversation got a cramped more in depth.” By the conclude of the race, McAuliffe had befriended his own tracker.

Krizic says the moment thing happened more gradually. As he chased McAuliffe up and down I-95, putting close to 15,000 miles on his car, Krizic saw a candidate who both affirmed and challenged the “preconceived” Macker image. “There’s the wild fundraiser offering rum shots on TV,” he says. “And I definitely caught instances of that.” But the frenetic energy also came with a discipline and work ethic that surprised his rivals.

“We were just waiting for him to mix up Abingdon and Arlington,” says Moran, who now serves in the McAuliffe administration as Virginia’s secretary of public safety. “He was going to mess up. And he never did. By the conclude of the campaign, I thought, ‘Well, this guy’s serious.’”

McAuliffe has spoken in the past approximately the way people, in his words, “pigeon-gap” him. “I’m known for raising more money than any man alive. But you know what? I’ve always known approximately these issues,” he said in 2009, citing his many past appearances on Meet the Press. (He now credits his upbringing in Syracuse, where he says his parents taught him early on that “your job is to save your hand out and encourage someone up the rung of that ladder,” though for years, he talked more often like an operative than an elected official: “I stay absent from issues,” he said in 1999. “I achieve mechanics, not message,” he said in 2004.)

As a candidate in Virginia, McAuliffe’s transition to elected office did not advance without struggle. He approached the 2009 primary, a three-way race against Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds, with the same intensity as with any other endeavor, recruiting celebrity surrogates from Biz Markie to John Grisham, raising bags of money, decking out events. (A current York Times magazine sage recounted his campaign’s presence at the 2009 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner: a McAuliffe banner, a McAuliffe marching band, 39 McAuliffe dinner tables, 2,500 McAuliffe-themed fortune cookies, 300 McAuliffe glow sticks, and two McAuliffe after parties.) His political style and connections also, of course, became his biggest vulnerability. At that point, he’d lived in Northern Virginia for 17 years. Still, his opponents easily cast him as an outsider and carpetbagger: Moran, his sharpest critic at the time, described McAuliffe as a resident of “Park Avenue” and “Hollywood” and a product of the “corrupt political establishment,” beholden to “spacious-money 1990s politics” and unsavory contributions — including, Moran eagerly famous at the time, a $25,000 donation from current York’s own Donald Trump.


Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

McAuliffe campaigning with Bill Clinton in 2009.

After he lost the primary in 2009, McAuliffe never really stopped running. He hired Levar Stoney, a prominent Democratic operative in Virginia who now serves as the mayor of Richmond, to encourage prepare for the next race. From 2010 to 2013, the two of them spent nearly every day together, with Stoney driving and McAuliffe in the passenger’s seat, traveling to pockets of Virginia where he had never spent much time. They went to chicken festivals and coal mines, met with fishermen on the shore, attended local party dinners. McAuliffe needed to build relationships external the Washington suburbs. (This was a man who, in 1988, told aspiring campaign operatives that one of the generous things approximately fundraising is “I’m not in Des Moines, Iowa… It’s the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, current York, Miami, Chicago.”) Early on, progress was tedious. “He hadn’t really gotten around Virginia,” Stoney says. “We had a lot of doors shut in our faces. Folks would not return my phone calls. Folks would not return my emails. But slowly but surely, we chipped absent at it.”

In both campaigns, McAuliffe also had to reckon with the unpleasant moments of his long career in politics and commerce, trade. Over the course of the 1990s, he was questioned by congressional and Justice Department investigators; was accused by at least one donor of a “quid pro quo” scheme in the Clinton White House; and figured as a central player in a federal investigation into an illegal fundraising scheme involving the Teamsters union, the DNC, and Clinton’s 1996 campaign. Many of the inquiries involved the same mix of politics, money, and influence that has long been associated with the Clintons. Others were more unsavory: Court documents named McAuliffe in a list of investors backing a man who pleaded guilty to a scam that took advantage of the terminally ill. (After the investment was reported, he donated those profits to charity. His aides said McAuliffe “never would beget invested” had he known the nature of the man’s commerce, trade activity.)

final year, reports named McAuliffe as the subject of an FBI investigation — the scope and focus of which were unclear, but possibly concerned donations to his campaign and the Clinton Foundation from a Chinese businessman. (“I don’t deem there is anything there,” McAuliffe says when asked whether he is aware of any updates to that inquiry. “He was a valid, lega donor.”) Meanwhile, his involvement in an electric-car company called GreenTech Automotive, also championed by Hillary Clinton’s brother, continues to generate headlines over the company’s spend of a special visa program to encourage secure foreign investment. McAuliffe left GreenTech in 2012. A year later, there was news of an SEC investigation. His aides denied any knowledge of the inquiry at the time, and charges were never brought forward. Just final week, a group of Chinese investors sued McAuliffe and others, alleging that they now face deportation because GreenTech did not create enough jobs.

For McAuliffe, the 2009 and 2013 races were an opportunity to develop his own approach to Democratic policy. His message to voters always hinged on economic development — “jobs! jobs! jobs!” he says now — but in the eight years since his first campaign, McAuliffe has also refined that focus into an overarching framework for governing. Every issue — spacious or small, social or not — is tied, in his eyes, to creating jobs, courting businesses to the state, building what he calls the “current Virginia Economy.” It’s not an explicitly ideological message. It’s not grounded in the spacious debates of nowadays’s Democratic Party. It offers no outright position on left vs. center, establishment vs. grassroots. As McAuliffe describes it, a better workforce is a “moral” vital.

“I deem job creation is the single most considerable value a governor could beget. To me, it is the core issue of what government is approximately.”

“I compose the economic a value statement,” he says.

His view of governing goes something like this: You can’t give people opportunity whether they don’t beget generous jobs. And you can’t derive people into generous jobs whether they can’t access generous health care, or derive a generous education, or derive to work on generous roads and bridges — and so on and so forth. A strong economy, as McAuliffe explains it, is as much approximately LGBT and abortion rights (because businesses won’t advance to a state that “discriminates”) as it is approximately a lunch program for low-income students (“because you cannot build a workforce unless you beget a remarkable education system, and you cannot beget a remarkable education system whether your children can’t learn because they’re just plain hungry”).

“Everything comes from a value proposition,” he says. “Where are you morally on the issues? I deem job creation is the single most considerable value a governor could beget. To me, it is the core issue of what government is approximately.”

To compose that point, there is a lot of talk from McAuliffe approximately “leaning in” and “doing the right thing.” He is always “leaning in” on something — he’s “really leaned in” on cyber, “leaned in tough” on childhood starvation, “leaned in double tough” on voting rights — even rocking forward on his feet as he says it. “Never once beget we save our finger up in the air to see where the polls were,” he says. “Lean in on what you deem is right, and let the chips topple where they may.”

Inside the state, progressive activists might balk to hear that from McAuliffe. While they were heartened by the governor’s fight to restore voting rights for felons — an initiative that preceding Democratic governors did not pursue or wrote off as impossible — Virginia liberals beget taken issue with parts of his record. One sticking point is McAuliffe’s ongoing support for two natural gas pipeline projects in the state. Another: his 2016 deal with the National Rifle organization to, in exchange for other gun restrictions, recognize most out-of-state concealed-carry permits.

The two pipelines, called the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, are bitterly opposed by left-leaning activists. “A lot of progressives and environmentalists, including myself, feel like he’s backtracked on what he ran on in 2009,” said Lowell Feld, a liberal writer and advocate in Virginia who supported both McAuliffe campaigns and, at the time, considered him a more progressive candidate than most Democrats who beget escape statewide in Virginia. Since McAuliffe took office, Feld says, that view has diminished: Gun control groups, for instance, were “furious” with him final year over the NRA deal.

It might also be difficult to find progressives who share the governor’s raw excitement for economic development, or connect with the tedious climb to $20 billion in current capital, tracked in press releases approximately 15 current jobs at a Pittsylvania County packing company, or the current Facebook data center in Sandston, Va.

“He loves sitting down and cutting a deal and bringing some jobs to Virginia,” Feld says. “That’s fine whether he’s into that. It’s not my theory of economic prosperity.”

McAuliffe, however, believes he’s landed on a model for Democrats nationwide. “I’m clearly the most progressive governor in Virginia,” he says, “but I’m also the biggest economic developer. We’ve merged those two. And I honestly deem this is a template for the Democratic Party.”

On the subject of the party’s future, with many still consumed more than a year later by the long and fraught primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, he dismisses the suggestion that Democrats are moving en masse toward the far left. “There isn’t one message,” he told a group of mayors at a conference earlier this year. “People always talk approximately ‘litmus tests.’ What are your values? I know that what I need to achieve in Virginia might be very different from what [a] mayor needs to achieve in South Carolina,” he said. “Quit telling people what they oughta achieve.”

As for Sanders himself? “Everybody’s got their own styles,” McAuliffe says.

“I beget to deliver. I am a governor. For me, I just can’t give speeches.”


Brian Snyder / Reuters

An aide removes the seal from the podium after Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the National Governors organization this summer.

On Jan. 13, Northam will engage the oath in Richmond, and McAuliffe and his family will stir back to Northern Virginia. “I deem Dorothy would like a week or two,” he says. “But that would be it.” McAuliffe is not one to engage much of a wreck. An off-hand vacation suggestion — to spend some time sitting on the beach — is met with a vigorous shake of the head: “Oh gosh, no. No, no. I’ve got to achieve something. No, no, no. I don’t achieve that stuff.”

His view of relaxation is limited largely to reading and action movies: “Cars crashing through houses and guns going off — and it drives Dorothy crazy, the noise.” But not much else will peaceful down McAuliffe’s “engines” — which are, he notes, “always full-throttle.”

For now, the governor has a few projects lined up. He’ll invest more of his time in the current redistricting effort escape by President Barack Obama and former attorney general Eric Holder. He also intends to campaign on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2018. But for McAuliffe — who will not, or cannot, stay idle for long — the next spacious thing might also be a presidential campaign.

A defeat for Northam would beget cast real doubt on that opportunity — including among his own supporters and aides, who viewed the election as a critical test of McAuliffe’s success in office. Throughout the race, his team of political advisers kept close daily watch on the Northam campaign, stepping in with a heavy hand after the emergence of an unexpected primary challenger, Tom Perriello, to ensure that no high-profile supporters defected.

Former Hillary Clinton operatives like Robby Mook, her campaign manager, and Michael Halle, one of his top deputies, are among the formal and casual political operatives now around McAuliffe. (Mook is not on payroll, an aide said. But Halle worked this year on the Virginia Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, acting as a liaison of sorts between McAuliffe and the Northam campaign.) It’s a close-knit political orbit made up former aides and decades-long friends, donors, fundraisers, and aged colleagues. Some of those people beget been talking for months already approximately 2020. McAuliffe himself is more circumspect. When people bring up the subject, it’s nearly always a “one-sided conversation,” friends say. (He will perhaps, possibly only joke, as he did with one donor, “You just wait, it’s gonna be spacious!”) But even before Northam’s victory final month, some McAuliffe donors were spreading the word among Democrats they should assume with some certainty that he’ll stir toward a escape.

He will perhaps, possibly only joke approximately a presidential tender, as he did with one donor, “You just wait, it’s gonna be spacious!”

Those supporters also acknowledge that McAuliffe faces spacious challenges in a Democratic primary: What early-voting state could he win? What would voters compose of the string of inquiries around his private businesses? Does even more opposition research await? (There is a creeping sense among some Democrats that it does.) And what would voters deem approximately a candidate who comes to the table with a close link to the Clintons? With a message approximately economic development? A record that has disappointed climate and gun control advocates? (Some are already talking amongst themselves approximately ways to leverage his national ambitions — forcing McAuliffe, or Northam, to engage a stand against natural gas pipelines.)

Friends and former aides say McAuliffe is aware that his organization with the Clintons could compose it difficult to gain traction after final year’s presidential campaign. Even now, there are moments when the governor can tip-toe around the Clinton name, clarifying that a comment approximately admitting your failures is not a shot at Hillary — or wondering aloud why reporters beget asked him to weigh in on her next political project, a PAC she formed earlier this year called Onward Together. “I didn’t even know the name of the PAC!” he says.

Over the final four years, some of the critics who raised questions approximately McAuliffe beget been won over. His 2009 opponent, Brian Moran, quickly made the transition from rival to friend and cabinet member. The 58-year-aged legislator now characterizes attacks against McAuliffe, particularly those aimed at his businesses, as “spaghetti against the wall” that “never stuck,” Moran says. “I’m certain that whether he goes on, they’ll try it again.” (In which case, he adds, “I would be on the front lines for him. I’ll be in current Hampshire. I’ll be in Iowa.”)

whether McAuliffe does compose the jump to 2020, he could find financial support from some of the party’s biggest donors, perhaps enough to power his campaign past the early primaries and caucuses. He is close with Haim Saban, a major Clinton funder, and he already counts Sean Parker, the Virginia native and co-founder of Napster, as his largest campaign contributor.

But beyond money, McAuliffe has something else on his side: a huge and loyal network of friends. Whether they are donors or fundraisers, aged colleagues or staffers, union leaders or voters he’s met along the way, they beget also, more than likely, become friends.

To McAuliffe, whether it’s not fun, you can’t motivate people: work turns into drudgery, staffers lose commitment, energy fades. No one wants to be “with you.” compose it fun, and they achieve.

Every elected official has a political network, and every political network has its own distinct currency. For the people around Barack Obama and his presidential campaigns, loyalty functioned as a sort of devotion: a valid belief in the candidate, his magnetism, and the power of his message. With the Clintons, loyalty was a degree of proximity. And valid proximity to the Clintons was a rare commodity — guarded by those who had it, coveted by those who didn’t.

With McAuliffe, proximity is instant, and loyalty is developed on a personal level.

“Terry is particularly generous at keeping his relationships when there isn’t a transaction to be had,” says Michael Kempner, a Democratic donor and fundraiser who bundled millions of dollars for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. “People appreciate the genuine friendship.”

Former aides relate McAuliffe with words like “mentor,” “spacious brother,” “moment family,” and “very generous friend” — “but, like, an actual friend” — and that’s whether you are Bill Clinton, they say, or Barbara Hurd, the receptionist at the DNC — perfect of which makes his political network one that is “very, very, very, very large.”

“Terry does not let people derive out of his universe,” says Alecia Dyer, who started working as a secretary and scheduler for McAuliffe when he was 23 and stayed with him until he left the DNC in 2005. “He remembers everything.” During an interview on what happened to be his birthday, Duke Kinney, the childhood friend from Syracuse, paused to retort a call on his cell phone. McAuliffe’s singing came through in the background: “blissful birthday to you!” For Paschal, the former body man and longtime staffer, his sharpest memories with the governor are also the best and worst of his life: McAuliffe threw his engagement party, walked his mom down the aisle at the wedding, became godfather to his son, and in 2015, received one of the first phone calls that Paschal made after his wife lost a battle with cancer at the age of 39.

“Once you’ve worked for Terry McAuliffe, you always want to work for Terry McAuliffe,” says Paschal. The explanation for this you hear most often is some variation of “he always makes it fun.” To McAuliffe, whether it’s not fun, you can’t motivate people: work turns into drudgery, staffers lose commitment, energy fades. No one wants to be “with you.” compose it fun, and they achieve. The question of whether a book like What A Party! could be used against him politically — which it was — interests him less, for instance, than whether it kept you entertained: “beget you laughed out loud a couple times? That’s always real nice.” People like to be around McAuliffe, and he very simply likes to be around people. Friends say he got it from his late father. Jack McAuliffe, much like his son, had an “infectious personality” and “never hesitated to beget a cocktail,” says Kinney, the childhood friend. (One time, traveling domestic together from the Democratic conference in 2000, Kinney went to check the gate while McAuliffe’s dad waited in the airport bar. When he returned, “he goes, ‘Duke, you know Paul? The bartender here!’ Jack’s acting like he’s been best friends with this guy his whole life. He met him five minutes ago.”)


Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and McAuliffe in May 2008, when her first presidential campaign looked increasingly unlikely to succeed.

It’s portion of the reason McAuliffe became close with the Clintons, who, he says, “would call my staff and say, ‘Let’s derive Terry down here’” during what he calls “the worst times” — i.e. the family ski trip after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. “Brutal,” he adds. (In the foreword to the audiobook of McAuliffe’s memoir, Hillary Clinton flatly describes the White House as a “very lonely and desolate location”; McAuliffe, she writes, acted as the antidote.)

It’s also portion of the reason some see McAuliffe as a serious contender in 2020, despite his vulnerabilities. Michael Trujillo, a California-based operative who worked for Hillary Clinton, remembers McAuliffe taking out 30 or so interns for dinner in San Francisco one night during the 2008 campaign. “For those kids, it was unbelievable,” Trujillo says. “He has stories like that perfect across Iowa, current Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.”

It might be a bit much for some, or too tough to believe. It was, at least at first, for the co-author of McAuliffe’s memoir, writer and former magazine journalist Steve Kettman. “I beget enough of a reporter’s brain, where you’re kind of always asking yourself, what am I lost here?” he says. “What’s the other side of this guy? He can’t be this upbeat. He can’t like people this much. He can’t be that interested in talking to everyone.”

One night, a few months into the project, they were together in the guest house, playing cards. It was late, 3 or 4 a.m. McAuliffe was cracking jokes, same as always — and that’s “when it perfect kind of clicked,” Kettman says. “It just struck me: This guy is precisely the same now. This is who he is. There’s no subterfuge. There’s nothing apart from who he is.”


Ruby Cramer / BuzzFeed News

“I’ve probably been at it longer than any person, ever,” the governor says, leaning back in his seat external the mansion.

“I mean, since 1979!”

“I mean,” he goes on, “Maureen Dowd did a piece on me in ’88 and said, this man’s final longer than anyone else.”

“1988!”

In the long arc of his political career (“longer than any person ever”), McAuliffe has weathered scandal, stretched the limits of brands like “the Macker” and “Bill’s best friend,” and in some degree advance out on the other side with a serious record, credibility inside Richmond, a governing style that looks and sounds like no other politician, and the opportunity of a presidential escape.

“gawk at the experience I had. A kid from Syracuse, N.Y., ended up best friends with the president and the first lady.” And now he’s here. “I pinched myself every day,” McAuliffe says. “I mean, I started out — I did it myself. It wasn’t like anybody handed me anything.”

In his final year as governor, though, McAuliffe still gets a laugh out of the line approximately Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. There’s still that same glint of humor, or disbelief, approximately the fact that he is, the same as ever, both his excellency Gov. McAuliffe and the Macker.

It was there on the day of his inauguration, a gray and rainy morning in January 2014, when a grinning McAuliffe arrived to engage the oath, his friends flashing bemused smiles from the crowd. After the ceremony, the current governor leaned over the stage to guests gathered below. “Did you beget fun?!” he hollered out to one. “Are you ready to dance?!” he asked another.

And it was there again four years later, on the night of the governor’s race final month, when McAuliffe, still grinning, took the stage at the victory portion to cheers and applause while the ‘90s R&B song, “Return of the Mack,” came pounding through the ballroom speakers.

Return of the Mack… It is!

Return of the Mack… advance on!

Return of the Mack… Oh my god!

You know that I’ll be back… Here I am!

Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in current York.

Contact Ruby Cramer at ruby.cramer@buzzfeed.com.

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