RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced Wednesday he is running for another term next year, joining a rapidly growing Democratic primary field.
“It’s time for a new Virginia way, and I know that old way of thinking ‘cause I fought against it time and time again as governor,” McAuliffe said on the steps of Miles Jerome Jones Elementary School in Richmond as he announced his second bid for office.
While Virginia is the only state in the country that forbids consecutive runs for governor, the law says nothing about nonconsecutive terms.
McAuliffe held the state’s top executive office from 2014 to 2018. If he wins in November 2021, he’ll be just the third Virginia governor to serve twice since 1830.
Flanked by Democratic state Senator Louise Lucas and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, McAuliffe promised he’d spend a second term as governor continuing his legacy of supporting abortion rights, civil rights and the LGBTQ community while maintaining Virginia’s status as one of the best states for business.
Best known for his work with the Democratic National Committee before winning the governorship, McAuliffe undoubtedly has a strong record to run on. After decades of Republican rule, the entrepreneur-turned-governor offered a more progressive agenda for the left-moving state. In addition to adding 200,000 jobs during a recession, he racked up a record 120 vetoes of bills he found unacceptable as they poured in from the state’s then-GOP-controlled Legislature.
But he’s not alone in seeking his party’s nomination for governor, as four other Democrats are vying for the state’s top job.
Among them are state Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, each of whom could become the first Black female governor of Virginia. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who faced allegations of sexual assault from two women, also threw his hat in earlier in the year. And just ahead of McAuliffe’s announcement Wednesday morning, military veteran and state Delegate Lee Carter, a self-identified Democratic socialist, joined the fray by starting a PAC to raise money for a run.
Virginia joins New Jersey as the only two states that hold statewide elections in the year following a presidential contest, which often propels the races into the national spotlight.
Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, expects 2021 to be no different.
“It’s one of the first tests of party strength after a president’s inauguration,” he said in a phone interview. “With someone like McAuliffe in the race, and his national profile, expect even more attention.”
But the attention won’t just be focused on McAuliffe. After 14 years as a state legislator, McClellan announced her gubernatorial bid over the summer. Her party’s control of the Legislature for the first time in two decades and an executive branch led by outgoing Democratic Governor Ralph Northam allowed her policy goals to take center stage.
School funding was chief among them. While McAuliffe announced a $2 billion investment plan for education Wednesday morning, McClellan had pitched the same funding package during the 2020 legislative session. Hopes of approving that spending have since been dashed under the weight of predicted budget shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Carroll Foy, a 39-year-old Virginia Military Institute graduate now in her second term in the House of Delegates, resigned from her seat this week, a year early, to devote her full attention to the gubernatorial race. State law forbids campaigning during the state’s annual winter General Assembly session. While some have questioned the promising young lawmaker’s decision, others are praising it as a bold move.
“She is a risk-taker, she takes on tough fights,” said Ben Tribbett, a Virginia Democratic political consultant.
He suggested Carroll Foy is an underdog in the race and said dramatic steps like resigning to focus on winning the governorship can help build momentum.
“I think she’s doing the right things from that perspective,” he added.
Carter’s entry into the race, which has yet to be formally announced, harkens back to the 2017 primary race when former congressman and Barack Obama staffer Tom Perriello ran to the left of Northam.
Perriello’s failed bid and Virginia’s tendency to swing away from the party that won the White House the year before, a trend only recently broken during President Donald Trump’s term, could spell trouble for the far-left Carter or any Democrat who crosses the primary finish line.
“There’s a lot of voters out there that like balance and don’t like one party in control,” Tribbett said. “If you’re going to have a Democratic Legislature, and one that’s moved to the left, I think there’s many voters who want to offset that with a Republican governor.”
So far there are only two GOP candidates for governor: Delegate Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and Senator Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield.
Cox, with 30 years of experience in the state House, is putting all his eggs in the nomination basket after promising not to seek reelection next year.
“We’re fighting back so we can lead forward, out of this pandemic and this self-inflicted recession,” Cox said in his announcement video last month.
Chase, who announced her bid early this year and has been pounding the pavement ever since, describes herself as Donald Trump in heels. The gun-toting legislator has buddied up with high-profile far-right groups and her antics inside and out of the state Senate have drawn ire from her GOP colleagues.
“Quite honestly, I just don’t have the time to address every crazy thing she says,” Senator Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said in a Facebook post after Chase said the Democratic Party “hates white people” because of efforts to remove Confederate monuments.
Further complicating the gubernatorial race is the Virginia Republican Party’s decision last weekend to hold a convention instead of a primary election to nominate its candidates for statewide 2021 races.
Chase criticized the move as allowing party leadership to manipulate electors in favor of the establishment’s pick rather than the people’s. Cox also disagrees with the decision.
For now, Chase has made good on her threat to run as an Independent if the party’s nominees were decided at a convention.
“I cannot in good conscience participate in a method of nomination that disenfranchises so many Virginians from being able to conveniently vote at their local polling precinct. I am still a Republican but I will now run as an independent to allow ALL Virginians to vote,” she wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
There are rumors of other GOP nominees waiting in the wings, including northern Virginia businessman Pete Snyder, but right now Cox is the only official GOP candidate, which could make for an awkward convention unless more throw in their hats.
Virginia Democrats will pick their candidate in an open primary on June 8. The 2021 Virginia Republican Convention will happen sometime next summer, though a date has not yet been chosen.