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Ex-Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe rules out 2020 presidential run

Terry McAuliffe rules out 2020 run

Former Virginia Gov. and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe will not be seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020, he told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night. McAuliffe, a longtime friend of the Clintons, told CBS News podcast "The Takeout" in 2018 that he believed he could beat President Trump in a head-to-head matchup.

McAuliffe told Cuomo he has been to more than 20 states, but he had decided to focus on flipping Virginia. "I invested a lot in that state and I love that state," he said.

Virginia had once been a reliably red state, but Democrats have been making progress in the state and the state voted for Democrats in the last three presidential elections. Republicans narrowly maintained their majority in the General Assembly, and Democrats have been focused on flipping Virginia. But a series of scandals, including photos of Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax being accused of sexual assault, have weakened the Democratic party in the state. 

"I do think we need in this race a progressive governor who was very jobs-oriented, very successful in economic development. They're not mutually exclusive," McAuliffe told "Face the Nation" in February. "A governor is CEO. We build roads, we fix roads. We do need governors in this race because, you know, we don't just get to talk all day, we've got to deliver every single day."

Terry McAuliffe
Terry McAuliffe seen Jan. 13, 2016. AP

There are currently 18 Democrats running for president in 2020.

McAuliffe's decision comes as former Vice President Joe Biden mulls whether to jump in the race. McAuliffe, who served on former President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign and was chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, told "Face the Nation" in March that he "wanted to see what the field is" before deciding on a run.

McAuliffe's record as a business-friendly centrist who as governor proposed a corporate tax cut and backed a massive new natural gas pipeline that environmentalists detest would have hurt his chances to win over more progressive primary voters.

Once best known as a top Democratic money man and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe reinvented his image during a largely successful four-year term as governor that saw him tirelessly market the state, make major transportation deals and restore more voting rights than any other governor in the country. He left office in early 2018.

McAuliffe had made clear to friends and associates that he believed he'd make a good candidate and an excellent president. He's been open about his belief that Democrats should not stray too far to the left, particularly on its approach to health care and other economic issues. He sees himself as a politician in line with the party's positions on social issues while representing a mainstream liberalism that could appeal to more moderate voters.

According to aides, McAuliffe had spent the last several weeks meeting with policy advisers talking about how to make concrete economic and health care proposals that could appeal across the political spectrum but that would stop short of Sanders' pitch for single-payer health insurance. Among those he met with was Chris Jennings, a top health care policy adviser in former President Obama's White House when the Affordable Care Act was passed and implemented.

Part of McAuliffe's pitch to powerbrokers in early voting states was his ability to make Democratic inroads in Virginia, which has become reliably Democratic in recent elections. In the 2017 elections, the last year of McAuliffe's four-year tenure as governor, 15 House of Delegates seats shifted from Republican to Democratic control, reducing the GOP's majority to two seats.

"I took a red state and made it blue," the former Democratic National Committee chairman said last month during a swing through South Carolina. "We had the biggest pickups in 140 years under my four years as governor, and if we did it there, we can do it here in South Carolina."

McAuliffe stepped into the national spotlight as governor as a leading voice on certain social issues, winning kudos for undoing a vestige of the state's Jim Crow era and restoring voting and other civil rights to felons who have completed their sentences. McAuliffe's blunt criticism of the white nationalists who sparked a deadly rally in Charlottesville last summer also drew a sharp contrast with President Trump's shaky response.

Mr. Trump gave $25,000 to McAuliffe's 2009 gubernatorial bid, and the two were once acquaintances. But McAuliffe has been unsparing in his criticism of the president in the last year or so, telling a national television audience he'd knock Mr. Trump to the floor if the president ever tried to intimidate him.

Another factor in McAuliffe's decision is the dissipating shadow of the Clintons in Democratic presidential politics. McAuliffe has been friends with the couple for more than 30 years and served as DNC chairman during part of Mr. Clinton's tenure. McAuliffe has been unapologetic about his ties with the Clintons and his years as a party money man for them and other candidates, saying he has always worked within the existing campaign finance rules to elect Democrats up and down the ballot, even as he acknowledges that big money — particularly from corporations and super PACs — has become anathema to many in the Democratic base.

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