Everybody knew that Hillary Clinton would, at some point, wade into the Virginia governor’s race. Yeah, Democratic contender Terry McAuliffe is vaguely skeezy, emitting an aura of naked ambition and moral flexibility that makes you want to check your wallet while simultaneously taking a shower. He is, nonetheless, a longtime friend and inner-circle confidant of the Clintons. The Macker has stuck by them through thick and thin, winning campaigns and losing ones. There’s just no way they could leave him hanging now—especially when he’s up against a right-wing fringer like Ken Cuccinelli.
And so, on September 30, Hillary will host a fundraiser for McAuliffe, bringing a big jolt of cash and glamour to his less-than-electrifying candidacy. Possibly the only people more excited about this development than Team Terry are Garrett Marquis and his colleagues at the StopHillary super PAC.
When I spoke with Marquis a few weeks back about StopHillary, for which he serves as spokesman, he made it clear that his group saw the Clinton threat as so dire that targeting Hillary herself was not a broad enough portfolio. No, his group would also be gunning for anyone and everyone to whom she offered political aid. For obvious reasons, the Macker was high on his list.
Sure enough, on Tuesday, StopHillary came roaring out of the gate with an email pegged to the upcoming fundraiser. As the missive ominously opens:
Dear _____Hillary is making a bold play in her not—so “stealth” campaign for President.Will you help me launch a counter offensive immediately?Let me explain.Hillary Clinton’s close friend and political ally Terry McAuliffe is running for Governor in Virginia and Hillary is making a special trip to Washington to give a boost to his campaign. Any friend of Hillary’s is no friend of ours and he must be stopped. Period. …
And on and on it goes, with all the high-octane warnings you’d expect: McAuliffe is a Hillary “crony,” “her closest political ally,” and her “hand selected henchman.” A win for him “will be seen as a major victory” for her. Worse still, having McAuliffe in control of a battleground state like Virginia would further Hillary’s effort to “steal the White House” in 2016. So send us your money right now before it’s too late!
Marquis says online ads, phone calls, and follow-up emails soliciting money directly for Ken Cuccinelli will follow shortly. But, really, Cuccinelli is beside the point. So, for that matter, is McAuliffe. Marquis et al. are looking to fry a much bigger, much blonder political fish. “If Hillary wasn’t getting involved in the Virginia governor’s race,” acknowledges Marquis, “we wouldn’t be getting involved.”
Such is the ongoing weirdness of the Virginia governor’s contest that, with two remarkably unlikable candidates slashing away at one another in one of the most disheartening races in modern political memory, the race itself has nonetheless assumed outsized importance for any number of groups.
StopHillary folks are hardly the only ones who see the Macker as a stand-in for Hillary 2016. Various outlets have noted that Republicans are using the race as a test run to see how voters respond to charges of cronyism and corruption being lobbed at McAuliffe—and, by extension, his very good friend Hillary. “You might call it message testing,” the executive director for the Republican oppo-research group America Rising told The Hill. As if the ethical questions (including an SEC probe) swirling around GreenTech, the electric-car company McAuliffe founded, weren’t delicious enough, the fact that Hillary’s youngest brother, Tony Rodham, had a hand in scaring up foreign investors for GreenTech is the cherry on the sundae. (The Brothers Rodham, you may recall, have their own distinguished history of causing headaches for Big Sis.)
Dems, too, see something bigger at play. Back in April, Politico detailed—under the headline “Hillary’s First Test”—how McAuliffe’s campaign is “a testing ground for Clinton’s clout, operatives, and donors.” In addition to the hordes of Clintonistas on staff, consulting with, and/or buckraking for Team Terry, the Macker himself, with characteristic shamelessness, was reportedly telling donors that the way to get in on the ground floor of Hillary 2016 was to write him a check first.
Nor is it all about the Clintons. In June, National Journal reported that Team Terry is taking pages from the “Obama Playbook”—that is, trying to construct a grassroots, get-out-the-vote operation that will propel voters to the polls who don’t normally bother to show up. “The November vote will be the first statewide election since the 2012 vote to test whether the Obama campaign model can be applied to candidates other than the president,” observed NJ—which also gently noted that McAuliffe’s campaign would be attempting this feat in an off-year election and with a candidate who’s about as different from Obama as you can find in the Democratic Party.
On one level, there’s a rich irony to having so much political meaning riding on the backs of two gubernatorial combatants widely regarded as breathtakingly flawed. On another, it makes perfect sense: with candidates this depressing, the race needs to be about something—anything—else. Otherwise, why would anyone bother to pay attention, much less come out and vote?