Fact Checker: Change McAuliffe Can Believe In
Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, released a new 60-second radio ad this week in which in the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee appears to claim some credit for helping get President Obama elected last year.
In his ad, McAuliffe uses Obama's name to make a direct appeal to African-Americans, who make up 20 percent of the state's population and even larger share of the Democratic primary electorate.
"Did you know that Terry McAuliffe fought to protect voting rights and led the effort to give Democrats in our region a stronger voice in deciding the party's presidential nominee?" a female asks in the ad, which is airing on black radio stations in Hampton Roads and Richmond.
"That's right," a male says. "Terry McAuliffe defended our rights and was the leader who brought us together and united the party. And in 2008 our voices were heard when we elected our president, Barack Obama."
But there are ample press accounts and YouTube footage to suggest that McAuliffe, who chaired Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign, was among the handful of Americans late last spring who had not yet acknowledged that Obama had secured the Democratic
On June 3, the day Obama clinched the nomination, McAuliffe introduced Clinton at a rally in New York as "the next president of the United States." McAuliffe's introduction dismayed the Obama campaign, which was eager to pivot into the general election.
On the same day, McAuliffe appeared on the Daily Show and proclaimed Clinton "is going to the White House" and said she would consider putting Obama "on the ticket."
McAuliffe later got into a comedic exchange with the host, Jon Stewart. Stewart, pretending to be Obama, asked McAuliffe a question that included an expletive to express his frustration with McAuliffe's antics on the talk-show circuit. McAuliffe responded that Obama could kiss his [expletive], but he quickly reiterated he was "just teasing."
McAuliffe advisers note he was far more congenial in talking about Obama in formal settings, referencing, among others, a Meet the Press interview in May in which he pledged to "help Obama" in anyway he can.
McAuliffe did quickly get behind Obama after Clinton dropped out. In July, McAuliffe donated the maximum $4,600 to Obama's campaign, and he made a separate $28,500 donation in the fall to the Democratic National Committee's "Obama Victory Fund." He also helped rally other Clinton donors to Obama's side.
McAuliffe also campaigned for Obama across Virginia last fall, but at the time he was also eying a bid for governor and was relatively unknown in many parts of the state.
McAuliffe's other claim in his ad -- that he fought for minority voting rights -- has firmer grounding. It stems from his tenure as DNC chairman in the aftermath of the 2000 election.
On the day he became chairman in 2001, McAuliffe started the DNC Voting Rights Institute, and he appointed former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson to run it.
McAuliffe focused heavily on voter protection in the 2002 midterm elections, but his efforts in Virginia that year were limited. There were no seriously contested federal races in the state that year.
In the ad, McAuliffe appears to try to claim credit for helping establish the date of Virginia's primary. As national party chairman, McAuliffe did rearrange of the primary schedule for the 2004 presidential election to give South Carolina, a state where nearly one in three residents are African-American, a more prominent, early position.
Former party chairman Howard Dean, not McAuliffe, oversaw the 2008 primary calendar. McAuliffe had no formal role in the decision by Virginia, Maryland and the District to hold their Democratic nominating contests on the same day last year.
Ironically, McAuliffe's earlier efforts to give key Southern states a bigger role in the nomination process may have helped Obama open up an insurmountable lead over Hillary Clinton in last year's primaries.
-- Tim Craig
March 20, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: 2009 Governor's Race , 2009 Governor's Race Fact Checker , Terry McAuliffe , Tim Craig
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