In a business—politics—that attracts more than its fair share of eccentrics, egomaniacs, and outsized characters, Terry McAuliffe stands alone. There is no one quite like the Macker, as his friends call him. McAuliffe has lived and breathed politics since, well, the day he was born, the son of a Democratic county pooh-bah in Syracuse, New York, and he's never stopped. What got me interested in McAuliffe, though, was the leap he'd made from fundraiser/party chairman/"Friend of Bill" (Clinton) to elected official after he got elected governor of Virginia in 2013. It's a leap not many behind-the-scenes types (if you can call McAuliffe, a man who never saw a TV camera he didn't like, behind-the-scenes) make, and I wanted to see how it'd worked out for him. Little did I know that I was walking into McAuliffe's life at a particularly dramatic juncture.
Terry McAuliffe Wants to Prove He’s Not a Crony. But First He Has to Get Hillary Elected.
Washingtonian Magazine | September 6, 2016
BY THE TIME Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, finishes barraging me with talking points and factoids about education funding, highway-widening projects, the presidential campaign, and Twitter (“They don’t let me near it”), McAuliffe’s spokesman is looking anxious. We’ve blown past our allotted time, and the governor is expected at an event in five minutes.
“Before we wrap up,” the spokesman interjects, using the kind of verbal nudge toward the door familiar to PR pros everywhere, “would it be possible to offer just a sketch of where do we go from—”
McAuliffe suddenly bolts upright. “Have you seen the mansion yet?”
I have not.
He turns to the spokesman. “What do we got tonight, a Hispanic—what is tonight?”
“It’s the Asian American Heritage—”
“Yeah, well, c’mon over,” McAuliffe tells me. “Get yourself a drink, see the mansion.”
First, a detour. As the staff packs up for the day, McAuliffe leads me into the adjacent conference room. Inside is a blown-up state map and a photo of McAuliffe with a Middle Eastern crown prince. “I just got the poultry ban lifted in Kuwait and Oman,” he says. “First time ever. Big deal.”
Spend any amount of time with the governor and you’ll get an earful about all the “firsts” and “mosts” and “greatests” he’s amassing before his four-year term ends. McAuliffe claims to be the first Virginia governor to visit all 23 community colleges and 36 state parks, the first to inspect the state’s two juvenile-justice facilities, and the first to drive the pace car at a NASCAR race. He’s the first Virginia governor to support same-sex marriage publicly—and to officiate at one. Virginia, he loves to say, is the “greatest state in the greatest nation on Earth.” Virginia farmers are the “greatest farmers in the greatest state in the greatest nation in the world.” The mayors of Norfolk and Newport News are, respectively, the “greatest mayor in America” and the “other greatest mayor in America.”
McAuliffe is 59 years old and six-foot-one, with big hands and a wide-shouldered build that brings to mind a retired tight end who now runs a local steakhouse. Yet he has the twitchy attention span of someone a generation younger. Confine him to the leather chair in his office, too small for his frame, and he’ll fidget and slouch, draping a leg over the side like an insolent teenager in pinstripes and wingtips.
In conversation, he combines the salesmanship of an infomercial host with the jargon of a corporate thought leader and the intensity of a high-school football coach on his third can of Monster Energy. He doesn’t get excited—he gets JACKED UP. He says, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” to underscore the magnitude of what he’s just said. He often abandons one line of thinking for another, mid-sentence, no warning.
The 72nd occupant of the Commonwealth’s highest office, McAuliffe may be the most antic governor in the 240-year history of the position. He’s also one of the most improbable. Not long ago, America knew him as the Macker—the Clinton-family crony, the partisan warrior carrying the Democratic Party banner on the Sunday talk shows, the titanic political moneyman dubbed “the greatest fundraiser in the history of the universe” by Al Gore. But for the past 2½ years, he’s been in the actual business of governing, with its finance negotiations and its legislative skirmishes, and, especially, its opportunities to turn on the charm in public instead of in private. And, on this May afternoon in Richmond, he wants me to know it.
Informed that his guests are waiting, McAuliffe fetches his jacket and marches into the hallway. “C’MON, EVERYBODY,” he says. “LET’S GO.”
At the end of the hallway, we squeeze into his private lift. “Of course, you get your own elevator as governor,” he tells me.
As the doors close, he introduces his security detail, Scott and Dana of the Virginia State Police.
“Dana’s single,” McAuliffe says.
“I may not be,” Dana says. “Who knows?”
“Well, you’re not down the aisle, let me put it that way.”
The elevator beeps once, twice.
McAuliffe, again: “Scott’s single.”
“Not really,” Scott says, a touch offended.
“You’re not down the aisle.”
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say McAuliffe has gotten more mileage out of the official residence than probably the previous 71 governors combined. He invites lawmakers over for drinks during the legislative session, hosts receptions for constituents, and dines with foreign dignitaries and business executives. Oil paintings and historic artifacts abound, but the crowds flock to the mansion bar, which is stocked with Glenfiddich, Woodford Reserve, and other high-end spirits, all paid for by the Irish Catholic governor himself. Next to the bar sits a Kegerator that pours Virginia craft beer most days of the year. (On St. Patrick’s Day, it’s Guinness.)
“HIYA, EVERYONE,” McAuliffe says as he enters the house.