Photo by Coe Sweet
Terence Richard "Terry" McAuliffe is a man of words.
Let's be real: He gushes words. He is an overflowing fount of words, a geyser of words erupting nearly continuously.
He's a talker.
A robust 6-foot-2 with a shock of wavy brown hair, the 56-year-old McAuliffe honed his skills — "I'm a natural salesman," he has said — as the most prolific fundraiser in the history of the Democratic Party, where he served as chair of the Democratic National Committee, as well as a larger-than-life fundraising volunteer.
The Next Governor? Ken Cuccinelli Profile Robert Sarvis Profile One newspaper columnist described him as an "ebullient vacuum cleaner of wallets and bank accounts" who subsisted on only four hours of sleep a night, and who has been known to make more than 200 telephone calls a day in pursuit of donations. Widely referred to as "The Macker" in Democratic party circles, he's been a confidant of Bill Clinton, and he has raised money for both the former president and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she was running for the U.S. Senate from New York, McAuliffe's home state, and later for the White House. Bill Clinton has already given $100,000 to McAuliffe's campaign, and Hillary Clinton was to hold a fundraiser for him in Washington on Sept. 30, her first political event since she left the State Department, as she ponders whether to make another run for president. To say McAuliffe has friends in high places would be an understatement. Of course, there's a big difference between having friends in high places, not to mention one of the most recognizable faces on Capitol Hill, and winning an election on your own. McAuliffe found that out four years ago during Virginia's Democratic primary, when he lost his bid to be the party's gubernatorial nominee to Creigh Deeds, a state senator from rural Bath County. Deeds was later trounced in the general election by current Gov. Bob McDonnell, who won by 17 percentage points. Four years later, having surmounted the Democratic primary process without opposition, McAuliffe is again running for the state's top elected office. Richmond magazine caught up with McAuliffe as he traveled from a mid-August forum with his Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, in Northern Virginia — an encounter marked by some of the fiercest rhetoric and name-calling of an already contentious campaign. Of McAuliffe, Cuccinelli said at the forum: "He's the person who invented the scheme to rent out the Lincoln Bedroom and proudly bragged about selling seats on Air Force One for political donations. He's an unindicted co-conspirator in a union election money-laundering case. He has famously given over a million-dollar gift loan to the president of the United States." In his memoir, McAuliffe says he did give the Clintons a temporary loan to buy their first home when they left the White House, because they were burdened by legal bills and didn't have much money on hand. As far as the Lincoln Bedroom, McAuliffe has said he wrote a memorandum to the president in which he suggested that Clinton invite donors to meals, coffees, rounds of golf or jogging excursions, to keep in touch with them. Clinton later scribbled a note on the memo saying that high-dollar donors could also be invited to overnight stays at the White House. McAuliffe has maintained that he never knew what the president was planning, nor did he recommend that the Lincoln Bedroom be used to reward and cultivate political donors. The "unindicted co-conspirator" reference alluded to allegations that McAuliffe told Democratic donors to give money to the re-election effort of a Teamsters union president, in exchange for the union making large donations to Clinton's mid-'90s presidential re-election campaign. McAuliffe has said he never participated in a donation swap. In addition, charges were never brought against him. He often derides Cuccinelli for resorting to personal attacks. But McAuliffe had some personal attacks of his own at the Northern Virginia forum, where he characterized Cuccinelli as a "Trojan horse," who talked about job creation in previous campaigns, but whose record was very different from his promises. McAuliffe cited Cuccinelli's years as attorney general as evidence. "He spent his time launching a baseless witch hunt against a University of Virginia [climate] scientist," McAuliffe said. "He spent his time trying to shut down 20 women's health centers; he sent letters to colleges all across the state to get rid of the non-discrimination policies on sexual orientation. He spent his time trying to pass legislation that would ban common forms of contraception like the pill. Every time he gets elected, he focuses on a divisive ideological agenda." During our interview, McAuliffe says he has no illusions about what he believes is the biggest challenge standing between him and the governor's chair. "It's about turnout," he says. Since 1977, the political party of the sitting U.S. president consistently has lost the Virginia gubernatorial election. Moreover, off–year elections — general elections held in odd-numbered years — also tend to have lower turnout, which in Virginia generally favors Republicans. Negative campaigning, of which there has been plenty on both sides, also tends to hold down turnout, political analysts say. Couple all that with Cuccinelli's tea party base, which smothered all opposition to his candidacy and relegated Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to a bystander role, and McAuliffe knows he has a steep hill to climb. Returning to the issue of turnout, McAuliffe says, "We have to get people to understand the importance of this election." McAuliffe says he's in tune with Virginia voters on the big issues, such as transportation. He commends McDonnell for securing a bipartisan compromise that pushed a long-delayed transportation bill through the General Assembly. The bill overhauled funding for critically needed transportation projects. McAuliffe points out that he fully supported the bill, as did most of the state's business community, but that his opponent — a staunch anti-tax advocate — was flat-out against it. Cuccinelli has since said that if elected governor, he would do nothing to impede implementation of the transportation initiative, now that the General Assembly has given its approval. Many political observers believe that the support of women in the election may be the winning card for whichever candidate is holding it. McAuliffe has tried to bolster his credentials as a women's advocate, saying, for example, that he supports the rights of women to make their own personal health care choices, a repudiation of Cuccinelli's stance against most abortions and various forms of contraception. He also supports expanding Medicaid in Virginia as part of the federal government's Affordable Care Act, which McAuliffe says would benefit women. Cuccinelli has opposed Medicaid expansion, questioning among other things the government's promise to fund the expansion. Dorothy McAuliffe has appeared with her husband many times on the campaign trail, including at a mental health forum in early August at the Collegiate School in western Henrico County, and she has voiced strong support for his candidacy. In his interview with Richmond magazine, McAuliffe says his wife is passionate about "getting locally grown agricultural products" to schoolchildren. She also shares his fervor for the expansion of Medicaid and its programs to bring health care to families with low incomes and few resources. With a deep Irish background, McAuliffe has always been around personalities who can spin stories, and he heard a lot of them when he was growing up in Syracuse, N.Y. When his children tell stories about him, McAuliffe says he hopes they'll talk about "a father who was a lot of fun." He adds, "I hope what I've instilled in them is to fight for those in need, to be optimistic and to always be a happy warrior." Happiness is not what comes to mind for many Virginia voters when they think about the current gubernatorial campaign. McAuliffe is in a race that a writer for New York magazine called the "most depressing election in America." His opponent is fighting off a scandal. So is Virginia's Republican governor. And so is McAuliffe. Cuccinelli and McDonnell's troubles involve gifts they received from Jonnie Williams Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, a dietary supplements firm in Henrico County. Cuccinelli's more than $18,000 in gifts from Williams include vacations at Williams' resort home in Southwest Virginia, a catered Thanksgiving dinner and a flight to New York City. A Richmond prosecutor has ruled that Cuccinelli did not violate the law in receiving the gifts, or in initially failing to disclose $5,000 worth of those gifts. McAuliffe's troubles stem from a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into an immigrant investor program to finance GreenTech, the Mississippi electric car company he founded. Some Republicans have charged that McAuliffe used his political connections to help establish the company. Although McAuliffe resigned as chairman of GreenTech to run for governor, he remains its largest stockholder, according to published reports. Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, says that in many ways McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have the same problem as they vie for high office. "Because they've focused on attacking the other side, they've had a tough time defining themselves," he says. "Both camps have made fun-house images of the other candidate. In the case of McAuliffe, it's that he's a businessman [who's] maybe too slick, a little cavalier about ethics," Farnsworth continues. "For Cuccinelli, it's no better. It's that he's an extremist ideological warrior." Both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have said their campaigns are primarily about creating jobs for Virginians. But McAuliffe insists that he has the best chance of creating jobs in the state, because of his long experience as a businessman and entrepreneur. "I got my start in business when I was 14 years old," he told a gathering of business leaders recently. "I knew I was going to have to help pay for college. So I started sealing my neighbors' driveways. By the next year, I had a truck and I was doing parking lots. "Since then, I've been an entrepreneur my whole life, involved in businesses from banking to home building. But one thing that has always been a constant with me is that I will work with anyone to get things done." McAuliffe has made millions as a businessman. But how many millions is a matter of speculation. As of mid-August, McAuliffe had still not released his full tax returns, an issue that Cuccinelli, who has released eight years of his returns, has hammered away at during the campaign. McAuliffe has, however, released abridged tax returns. The Washington Post reported in April that the returns indicate that McAuliffe made $8.2 million in 2011, including nearly $1.9 million in capital gains income. In 2010, he reported making $1.8 million, including about $812,000 in capital gains. In 2009, he reported income of $6.5 million, including $4.2 million in capital gains. As testament to his fundraising prowess, McAuliffe's campaign had raised about $12.7 million through the State Board of Elections' last reporting date (June 30), while Cuccinelli's campaign had raised nearly $7.7 million. McAuliffe's political experience started even earlier than his business career. His father, Jack, was a commercial real-estate leasing agent who served for more than 10 years as Democratic Party treasurer in Onondaga County, N.Y. He introduced Terry to fundraising when he was 6 years old, placing his son at the front door for the annual Onondaga County Democratic Party annual dinner. In his memoir, McAuliffe recalled his father's instructions this way: "Terry, if they don't give you the money, they don't get in the door. No exceptions." McAuliffe's parents named him after Terry Brennan, a Notre Dame football player who, on McAuliffe parents' wedding day, ran the opening kickoff back for 98 yards and a touchdown. Although his father hoped he would go to Notre Dame, McAuliffe had a scholarship and financial aid that made Catholic University in Washington, D.C., a better choice for him. Besides, a friend of his father was able to get him a job as an intern with a congressman who represented his home area. He worked at the office two days a week doing filing and research and corresponding with constituents. After his graduation from college, he was offered a fundraising job with Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, during which McAuliffe met Richard Swann of Florida, who would later become his father-in-law and, for a time, his business partner. It was as a fundraiser for Carter and vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale that McAuliffe made headlines when he wrestled an 8-foot-long, 260-pound alligator to obtain a $15,000 campaign gift from the Seminole Indian tribe in Florida. After the Carter-Mondale election, McAuliffe entered law school at Georgetown University. Later, he went on to raise money for the presidential campaigns of former U.S. Sen. Richard Gephardt, former Vice President Al Gore, current Secretary of State John Kerry and, of course, the Clintons. McAuliffe says many people have helped him throughout his career, giving him opportunities that he never could have imagined. "My life has been so fascinating," McAuliffe says during our interview, reflecting on the half century that has passed since he was paving driveways in Syracuse. "Now I want to reach down the ladder and help the other person up."