RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe won’t run for president in 2020, according to two people familiar with calls he made Wednesday to allies.
McAuliffe had flirted with a Democratic presidential run for months, popping up in early voting states late last year and campaigning with candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, but ultimately decided against mounting a bid, according to the two people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting McAuliffe’s announcement.
Crystal Carson, a representative for McAuliffe, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. McAuliffe is scheduled to appear on CNN on Wednesday night.
McAuliffe’s decision not to run comes soon after a series of scandals has weakened Democrats in Virginia during a key election year, when partisan control of the state legislature is up for grabs. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring both admitted in February to having worn blackface as young men, while Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused by two women of sexual assault, which he denies. Some top Democratic state lawmakers have urged McAuliffe to focus on raising money for Democrats this year and then run for governor in 2021. Virginia bars governors from serving consecutive terms, but McAuliffe could seek a second term after being out of office.
It also comes as former Vice President Joe Biden considers whether to join a crowded 2020 Democratic field and run for president himself. McAuliffe is widely viewed as part of the party’s mainstream, occupying much of the same political space as Biden.
McAuliffe’s record as a business-friendly centrist who as governor proposed a corporate tax cut and backed a massive new natural gas pipeline that environmentalists detest would have hurt his chances to win over more progressive primary voters.
Once best known as a top Democratic money man and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe reinvented his image during a largely successful four-year term as governor that saw him tirelessly market the state, make major transportation deals and restore more voting rights than any other governor in the country. He left office in early 2018.
McAuliffe had made clear to friends and associates that he believed he’d make a good candidate and an excellent president. He’s been open about his belief that Democrats should not stray too far to the left, particularly on its approach to health care and other economic issues. He sees himself as a politician in line with the party’s positions on social issues while representing a mainstream liberalism that could appeal to more moderate voters.
According to aides, McAuliffe had spent the last several weeks meeting with policy advisers talking about how to make concrete economic and health care proposals that could appeal across the political spectrum but that would stop short of Sanders’ pitch for single-payer health insurance. Among those he met with was Chris Jennings, a top health care policy adviser in President Barack Obama’s White House when the Affordable Care Act was passed and implemented.
Part of McAuliffe’s pitch to powerbrokers in early voting states was his ability to make Democratic inroads in Virginia, which has become reliably Democratic in recent elections. In the 2017 elections, the last year of McAuliffe’s four-year tenure as governor, 15 House of Delegates seats shifted from Republican to Democratic control, reducing the GOP’s majority to two seats.
“I took a red state and made it blue,” the former Democratic National Committee chairman said last month during a swing through South Carolina. “We had the biggest pickups in 140 years under my four years as governor, and if we did it there, we can do it here in South Carolina.”
McAuliffe stepped into the national spotlight as governor as a leading voice on certain social issues, winning kudos for undoing a vestige of the state’s Jim Crow era and restoring voting and other civil rights to felons who have completed their sentences. McAuliffe’s blunt criticism of the white nationalists who sparked a deadly rally in Charlottesville last summer also drew a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump’s shaky response.
Trump gave $25,000 to McAuliffe’s 2009 gubernatorial bid, and the two were once acquaintances. But McAuliffe has been unsparing in his criticism of the president in the last year or so, telling a national television audience he’d knock Trump to the floor if the president ever tried to intimidate him.
Another factor in McAuliffe’s decision is the dissipating shadow of the Clintons in Democratic presidential politics. McAuliffe has been friends with the couple for more than 30 years and served as DNC chairman during part of Bill Clinton’s tenure. McAuliffe has been unapologetic about his ties with the Clintons and his years as a party money man for them and other candidates, saying he has always worked within the existing campaign finance rules to elect Democrats up and down the ballot, even as he acknowledges that big money — particularly from corporations and super PACs — has become anathema to many in the Democratic base.