Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has officially launched his campaign to reclaim his old seat, entering a Democratic primary field of progressive Black candidates.
As he stood in front of Miles Jones Elementary School in Richmond, McAuliffe vowed to take progressive action on education in the aftermath of the coronavirus, which has changed the way children are learning and likely negatively impacted their academic progress. He proposed a $2 billion investment to boost education and teacher salaries, expand pre-school education access and "ensure every single student is online."
"To build a strong post-COVID economy, the best workforce in the world to create a clear path for the middle class, we need to make an unprecedented investment in education," McAuliffe said, adding the proposal is the first of several to address life after coronavirus.
McAuliffe previously served as the commonwealth's governor from 2014 to 2018 and left with high approval ratings. Virginia law prevents governors from serving consecutive four-year terms, but does allow them to run again after serving one term.
He enters the race as the best-known candidate and a strong fundraiser — his "Common Good VA PAC" has raised $2.82 million since 2019 according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Former State Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, State Senator Jennifer McClellan and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax all declared for the primary earlier this year and have been focusing on grassroots support and racking up local endorsements. State Senator Lee J. Carter, a self-dubbed Democratic socialist, also filed paperwork this week to enter the race.
Foy and McClellan are both aiming to become the state's, and the nation's, first black woman governor. Foy was the first to respond to McAuliffe's campaign announcement, calling him a "career politician" who is interested "in maintaining the status quo."
"While I respect Terry McAuliffe's service, he doesn't understand the problems Virginians face. A former political party boss and multi-millionaire, Terry McAuliffe is simply out of touch with everyday Virginians," she said in a statement released Tuesday night.
McClellan added on Tuesday that she welcomes McAuliffe to the race, and said she looks forward to discussing her "15 years of experience delivering progressive change and my vision for the future with Virginians in the months to come."
McAuliffe's campaign co-chairs praised his actions as governor, saying his work helped lead to progressive actions taken by the Democratic-held legislature. State Senator L. Louise Lucas said McAuliffe has shown a "track record" of being responsive to minority communities.
"Anytime our communities have asked him to do something, Terry has delivered," she said after his remarks. "We're standing with him based on what he has done, and what we know he can do. This has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with who can best represent Virginia and bring us to where we need to be in this 21st century."
Susan Platt, a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate who is working to elect Foy or McClellan through the "Her Excellency VA 2021" group, said while she understands McAuliffe's desire to be governor again, the moment calls for the state to make history and elect the first black woman governor.
"This is not against Terry McAuliffe or any man, for that matter," she said. "I think now we've been presented an opportunity. We have now a woman vice president elect. I think we're at a point in history that was different than a few years ago. And it's time we say we're ready to lead, we want to lead."
Platt added that a woman statewide candidate could help energize the Democratic base in an off year election. McAuliffe won by less than two points in 2013, though the state has grown to be more Democratic. Current Governor Ralph Northam won by close to 9 points in 2017, while President-elect Joe Biden won the state by 10 points this year.
The 2021 gubernatorial race follows a turbulent 2019 for Virginia's Democratic leadership, withand weathering "blackface" scandals and Fairfax facing sexual assault allegations ( ).
Rather than holding a primary, Virginia Republicans recently chose to hold a convention process. As a result, state Senator Amanda Chase has chosen to run as an independent candidate instead. Chase and State Delegate Kirk Cox are the only Republicans to have officially declared a gubernatorial run.
Cox has already taken a shot at McAuliffe in a statement, saying he's running only "because his last presidential campaign collapsed before it started and he needs a platform for his next one."
"If his interest in the governorship was about us, the people of Virginia, rather than just about Terry, he would not have had his bags packed after three years, ready to quit on us as governor and go work for President Hillary Clinton," Cox said, referencing McAuliffe's close relationship and work with the Clintons.
Republicans held both legislative chambers in every year of McAuliffe's tenure except his first. While he said the "sky is the limit" in terms of working with a Democratic state House and Senate on issues like criminal justice reform and voter rights, he pitched his work with Republicans as a benefit of his experience.
"I'm not interested in partisan games or the old ways of thinking or doing things," McAuliffe said. "We have a huge opportunity here in Virginia to address the inequities of the past, to move Virginia forward and to create a better future for all Virginians."