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Virginia Dems pick Terry McAuliffe – again – for governor

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe speaking during a "Blue Wave Rally" at Prince William Country fairgrounds in 2018.

Virginia’s Democratic voters have chosen former governor Terry McAuliffe to be their party’s nominee for governor, giving him a historic second chance at the state’s top elected post.

The Associated Press called the race for McAuliffe, 64, before 8 p.m. The former governor was leading the five-way nominating contest with 61.8% of the vote in Tuesday’s primary with less than 50% of the total votes counted.

Former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy is in second place, with about 20% of the vote, or 32,220 of the ballots counted by 8 p.m. She was followed by state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, 48, who had garnered 11.63% of the vote tallied so far.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is trailing with 3.77% of the vote counted, followed by Del. Lee Carter, with 2.92% of the ballots tallied so far, according the still unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Turnout was light in Tuesday's contest, although the total number of voters who cast ballots in the primary is not yet available. About 6,000 Prince William County voters cast early ballots, which was about four times the number that voted early in 2017.

McAuliffe served as Virginia’s 72nd governor from 2014 to 2018. If he wins in November, he will become only the second person to be elected Virginia governor twice, the first being former governor Mills Godwin, who served as a Democrat from 1966 to 1970 and as a Republican from 1974 to 1978.

McAuliffe will face Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, 57, in the Nov. 2 general election.

McAuliffe became the frontrunner in the 2021 Democratic primary almost immediately after declaring his candidacy in December 2020. He garnered key endorsements, including those of several members of Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus, and raised more than $12 million for his primary bid, more than all his fellow candidates combined. 

When McAuliffe last served as Virginia’s governor, the state General Assembly was narrowly controlled by Republicans who thwarted his efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, among other efforts. McAuliffe vetoed a record 120 bills, none of which were overturned, however.

Among accomplishments, McAuliffe helped attract $20 billion in investment to the state, which saw its unemployment rate drop from more than 5% to about 3.3% during his tenure. He also issued a blanket executive order seeking to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons who had completed their sentences. 

GOP lawmakers took McAuliffe to court over the order, and the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that McAuliffe lacked the authority to restore ex-convicts’ voting right en masse. In response, McAuliffe pledged to make the restorations individually, which he did through a streamlined process that ended up restoring the voting rights to more than 173,000 formerly incarcerated people.

McAuliffe is a native of New York who started his own driveway and parking lot paving business when he was just 14. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Catholic University and a law degree from Georgetown University and became involved in politics when he worked for President Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, becoming the national fundraising director at age 22. 

McAuliffe would go on to lead the Democratic National Committee and serve as chairman to both former President Bill Clinton’s campaigns and that of first lady Hillary Clinton. Professionally, McAuliffe founded a bank, ran a homebuilding company and launched an electric car company, making millions along the way. McAuliffe and his wife Dorothy live in McLean and have five grown children.

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