- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe hears the buzz around a possible 2020 presidential run and is in no rush to silence the chatter.

Basking in the success of Virginia Democrats’ victories Tuesday night, Mr. McAuliffe paused midsentence and chuckled when a couple of passers-by blurted out, “Terry 2020! Terry 2020!”

Moments later, he smirked when asked about his recent travels to a couple of prominent swing states. He also spent a good chunk of the evening drawing a contrast between his successes as governor and President Trump’s struggles.

“This is how Democrats win: Run on the economy and be a brick wall to protect people’s rights,” said Mr. McAuliffe, offering his assessment as a blueprint for national Democrats.

In a night that was good for Democrats across the country, Mr. McAuliffe may have had the best evening of all, installing his chosen successor as governor and watching a Democratic sweep of top state offices and historic gains in the legislature as he pushed back against Mr. Trump.

Meanwhile, the night’s other outgoing governor, Trump ally Chris Christie of New Jersey, watched it all crumble, with his chosen successor suffering a humiliating defeat and his own political prospects in tatters.

Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats in Iowa, the state that traditionally opens the presidential nomination process, said Mr. McAuliffe’s stock is on the rise for the 2020 race and the party needs to listen to how he orchestrated the success of Virginia Democrats.

“I think he is now on that list of people that activists are wondering, ‘What he is going to do next?’” Mr. Bagniewski said. “I don’t know if he is top-tier, but when people are talking about who they want to see or hear from, he is in that conversation now for the first time.”

Mr. McAuliffe’s plans were a smoldering subplot heading into election night, but the results added gasoline to that fire.

The outgoing governor, who by law was limited to one term, used Gov.-elect Ralph Northam’s victory party to test-drive a potential 2020 message, pointing to Virginia’s low unemployment rate and billions of dollars of investment flowing into the state.

He said he made history by restoring voting rights to more former felons than any other Virginia governor, and he boasted about banning discrimination against LGBT individuals in the state workforce, defending women’s rights and boosting teachers’ pay.

“Tonight’s victory is a testament to the people who lean in on the things they believe in, who stand for their values and will not walk away from a fight,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Jim Demers, a Democratic consultant in New Hampshire, host of the first-in-the-nation primary, said Mr. McAuliffe is sure to get more attention, but he questioned whether voters could be concerned about his ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and are more interested in making a clean break from the past.

“I still believe that the Democratic Party itself is as screwed up as the Republican Party and that people need to realize that a lot of what happened last night was not because of how great the Democrats are doing but how poorly the Republicans are doing,” Mr. Demers said. “I still believe if Democrats want their best chance of winning the White House in 2020, they need to take a look at their next generation of candidates.”

Mr. McAuliffe has forged strong ties with the Clintons, serving as co-chairman of President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign while earning a reputation along the way as a prolific fundraiser. From 2001 to 2005, he served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

If Mr. McAuliffe runs for president, he faces challenges — including his ties to the Clintons and convincing voters in his home state that he has the right temperament for the job.

On his way to vote Tuesday for Mr. Northam, William Kennedy, a teacher in Alexandria, had a blunt take on a possible McAuliffe bid.

“No more Clintons, please,” he told The Washington Times.

Lenore Plissner, a lifelong Democrat who spent hours volunteering on behalf of the party at the polls in Prince William County, aired concerns about Mr. McAuliffe’s ability to unite the country.

“His personality tends to be so edgy in a way that I don’t think he would be a good prospect,” the 82-year-old told The Times.

On Tuesday, Mr. McAuliffe chuckled when asked about his 2020 plans and insisted his primary focus now would be closing out his governorship.

“We will see where I go after that,” he said, adding that he will quickly turn his focus to helping Democrats in midterm elections next year — particularly governors who will help shape the next round of redistricting after the 2020 census.

That effort already has taken Mr. McAuliffe to Ohio, where he headlined a Democratic dinner last month, and to Florida. He said he likes the idea of going back to the two states, both of which Mr. Trump carried last year.

“They liked my message of leaning in,” he said of the trips. “I enjoyed it.”

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