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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

By 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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I think that this fact-checker is a little egregious in its intent right from the very start -- or at least from the point where it claims that Terry was busy eyeing the governorship. From what I recall, Terry was at Democratic Party of Virginia events oriented around the election and was not throwing his own events. Secondly, to say that he did not unify the Democratic Party is effectively tantamount to saying that Hillary never came around and got behind President Obama, which we all know is false.

Your dismissal of McAuliffe for not having a "formal role" is misleading to the average reader because you omit the idea of influence and connectivity to the political scene, at the state or federal level. Political influence does inherently transcend a part of the strategy process; as you mention Howard Dean's role, look at McAuliffe's history behind supporting the 50 State Strategy. I cannot imagine why this was left out of the article.

In the end, pushing for Southern states was geared toward party solidarity and not just a particular candidate. Working for a candidate's interests may take precedent, like it did for Terry on the Hillary campaign, but at the same time you are also working for the interests of the party.

Posted by: robsmithiii | March 20, 2009 8:21 AM | Report abuse

If it weren't for Terry's work on the national level, the party would not be as strong as it is today. His work leading up to this past election certainly gave Democrats in our region a stronger voice in deciding the nominee. I don't see any false statements there. He DID unite the party during his time as DNC Chair. We are all fortunate to reap the benefits of that work now.

And OF COURSE he was still advocating for Hillary in June! That was his JOB! Did you forget that when Obama "secured the nomination", the party itself was still uncertain as to how they would count Michigan and Florida?!?! Don't act like he was the only one still pulling for a Clinton victory - 18 million other people were, too. Obama didn't "secure" the nomination until the convention, and Terry was on board when that happened as evidenced by his contributions thereafter.

Posted by: dcgal4 | March 20, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the astroturf, guys!

Anyone who thinks that McAuliffe "supported" Obama was apparently living in that gymnasium three stories underground with no cell or internet access- you know, the one where he proudly introduced HRC as "the next President of the United States!" on the night she lost the nomination.

This guy did what he did because he knew if Obama won Virginia he would run for Governor.

McAuliffe stepped in Clinton's bs and is busy tracking it all over Virginia.

And keep pushing that PUMA nonsense- Obama won Virginia by over 28 points. You'd know that if you actually lived here.

Posted by: fauxrunner | March 20, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I actually was born, raised and still reside in Richmond.

Anyone who is proactive about making a living [political or otherwise] knows that a component of job retention is working hard. Terry was simply doing his job well by being a zealous supporter of his client [HRC]. If your campaign is still running, don't sell it short! Saying otherwise would just be foolish.

Clearly there is a misconception of a campaign timeline here. McAuliffe worked for Hillary, she lost the nomination, then he acted like any sensible and decent Democrat would and threw his support behind Barack Obama. That's how political campaigning works within the national Party.

Is this gymnasium of which you speak called "Common Sense"? I am 100% positive that its amenities are up to date.

Posted by: robsmithiii | March 20, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Terry was one of the DNC officials who pushed for Michigan and Florida to be penalized for moving up their primaries. But when counting MI and FL's superdelegates became the only option for them to win, he changed his tune.

Posted by: franko2 | March 20, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

McAuliffe had a lot of misconceptions during his time heading up HRC's failed campaign. Like when they were counting MI and FL's primary votes to try and make the case that she was still in it. If you can credit the guy with one thing, its that he is loyal.

The guy might have been able to raise a ton of money for the DNC, but he should stick to that. As a guy who was also born in Syracuse, NY and has moved to Northern VA, I would rather vote for a guy who actually knows the Commonwealth. How much time has McAuliffe actually spent in McLean? Let alone outside of McLean. There are better choices out there that would still serve the interests of Northern Virginians as governor. A guy who lives in a mansion in McLean when he happens to be in town isn't the one.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | March 20, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Fauxrunner - You should be more precise. Obama won the Virginia PRIMARY by 28 points. The general election was considerably closer.

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | March 20, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

"he acted like any sensible and decent Democrat would and threw his support behind Barack Obama."

I think that's an entirely reasonable statement. But his ad doesn't say he acted like a good Democrat, just like everyone else, it says he "was the leader who brought us together and united the party." That's ludicrous.

Posted by: jimeh | March 23, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

It is mind boggling that McAuliffe critics can only condemn him about:

1. He was not born in Virginia (blame his parents if you have to blame someone!)

2. He knows very little about Virginia, without attempting to check accuracy of the allegation

3. He is a friend of the Clintons (like that is a crime!)

Why do they ignore that:

1. All McAuliffe's children were born in Virginia

2. McAuliffe and his wife have spent the best years of their lives in Virginia

3. McAuliffe has contributed significantly towards Virginia becoming a Blue state, including supporting elections of the last two Governors, and several legislators

4. McAuliffe has the most demonstrated and proven experience in business and turn-around strategies

My only conclusion is that prejudice is so strong that every wildly successful public figure is doomed to have his/her share of detractors.

Know who is the loser? Our good Democrat, Brian Moran. All the McAuliffe haters hurt the efforts of the Moran Campaign, and the true Moran supporters. And these out of state McAuliffe haters who congregate in a well known blogspot know nothing about Moran or Deeds, but sure as anything they hate McAuliffe and make their purpose in life to attempt destroying him, no matter who gets caught in the crossfire.

Posted by: alankrishnan | March 25, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

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