- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic Party chairman and head of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, is weighing a run for Virginia governor next year.

Mr. McAuliffe, 51, a frequent TV commentator and Democratic spokesman, fanned rumors at the party’s nominating convention in Denver when he talked to Virginia delegates, then declined to rule out a run when speaking with reporters.

A top McAuliffe aide, Tracy Sefl, said Wednesday that Mr. McAuliffe has been “inundated” by well-wishers in the state urging him to run.

“He’s really flattered, and his position is the same, that he’s not ruling out anything,” she said.

A close friend and political associate of Mr. McAuliffe, a longtime ally of the Clinton family, also said Mr. McAuliffe has been encouraged to run by Democrats “around the country.”

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, has said Mr. McAuliffe would be a good candidate - among others - if he chose to run. Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC TV show, this week asked Mr. Kaine whether he had encouraged Mr. McAuliffe.

“I’m very intrigued,” Mr. Kaine answered. “I didn’t realize that Terry was interested until I heard him speak out in Denver and he indicated he was. We’ve got two legislators in Virginia who have lined up to potentially run, and Terry now is coming in and saying he’s thinking about it. They’re all great.”

A Facebook page titled “Draft Terry McAuliffe for VA Governor” also has more than 230 members.

Mr. McAuliffe has committed his time this year to erasing Mrs. Clinton’s multi-million-dollar campaign debt and raising money for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s run for the White House.

Ms. Sefl said Mr. McAuliffe is “wholly focused” on helping elect Mr. Obama and Senate candidate Mark Warner. She said she did not know whether an announcement on Mr. McAuliffe’s candidacy would come after the November elections.

He has spoken to friends and others about his interest in elected office. If he chose to run, he would likely have no trouble raising as much money as he needed to put together a competitive campaign.

Mr. McAuliffe, of McLean, could not be reached for comment.

Two Democrats are already vying for the governorship: state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, of Bath County, and Delegate Brian J. Moran, of Alexandria.

Mr. Moran “would welcome additional competition if this is more than a rumor,” spokesman Jesse Ferguson said.

Mr. Deeds called Mr. McAuliffe a professional who “understands the political world.”

“It’s a free country, anybody that wants to run can run,” he said. “It doesn’t change the things I have to do. It doesn’t affect me one bit.”

The Republican candidate for governor is Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, while Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is seeking re-election.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, of Prince William County and chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said Mr. McAuliffe’s potential entry would be a “non-issue” for his members - but one that’s sure to cause division among Democrats.

“Who wants some guy who’s never been involved in Virginia politics to come into the state and lay sort of claim to the highest office here?” Mr. Frederick asked. “I’m sure you’re going to hear that kind of stuff from Deeds and Moran, and rightfully so.”

A McAuliffe candidacy could raise questions about his in-state credentials and whether a top supporter of Mrs. Clinton, who failed to win the Democratic presidential nomination, could win in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama in February’s presidential primary.

Mr. McAuliffe is a wealthy entrepreneur and Catholic University graduate who remains one of the party’s most prolific fundraisers.

His national recognition could help him in a race against Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran, both of whom have a more regional profile, and against Mr. McDonnell, who holds statewide office: A survey released in June by Public Policy Polling found Mr. McDonnell held a five-point lead over Mr. Deeds and a six-point lead over Mr. Moran.

Larry J. Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, called a potential McAuliffe run “semi-serious” and said he would have “a lot of fence building to do.”

He also said Mr. McAuliffe is trying to model himself after Mr. Warner - someone who has never held office before running for Virginia governor but has been active in politics for years.

Still, Mr. McAuliffe lacks Mr. Warner’s in-state experience and familiarity, Mr. Sabato said.

“I don’t think he knows much about Virginia’s geography, people or policies,” he said. “I’m sure he could get briefed quickly, but that’s not usually how Virginians pick a governor.”

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