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Northam Endorses McAuliffe For Second Term

Two men pose for pictures
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, talks with former Gov. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, right, prior to a news conference at Waterside in Norfolk, Va., Thursday, April 8, 2021. Northam endorsed McAuliffe for governor. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Gov. Ralph Northam has endorsed his predecessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to be his successor.

Northam’s endorsement Thursday morning in Norfolk comes as McAuliffe enjoys a large advantage in cash and name recognition in the five-person Democratic primary for governor. While governors can’t serve consecutive terms in Virginia, Northam painted his past four years in office as an extension of McAuliffe’s. Together, Northam said they’ve made Virginia more equitable and brought the state under complete Democratic control. He said he’s endorsing McAuliffe to keep it that way.

“We need a leader that will bring us out of COVID-19, a leader that will help small businesses [and] a leader that will promote equity on the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Northam said, standing in front of the Norfolk port terminal. “Terry McAuliffe will do that. He was a great 72nd governor of the commonwealth. He’ll be an even greater 74th.”

In addition to being a former governor, McAuliffe also previously served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and has close ties to President Joe Biden, former President  Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton. He is also a prolific Democratic fundraiser and had over $5.5 million in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, a figure that dwarfs his rivals

Northam served as lieutenant governor of Virginia under McAuliffe between 2014 and 2018. Everything was not always so rosy between the two politicians, though.

Two years ago, McAuliffe called on Northam to resign after a racist photo in Northam’s yearbook was made public.

"His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time," McAuliffe tweeted in 2019. “The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It's time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward."

Still, Northam chose to endorse McAuliffe over a crowded field of Democratic candidates that includes two high-profile Black women: former Del. Jennifer Carol Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond). If either were elected, they would be the first Black woman to serve as governor in U.S. history.

Northam was joined by U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) and Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), both of whom already endorse McAuliffe.

Lucas, who is McAuliffe’s campaign co-chair, highlighted his past successes signing Medicaid expansion in 2018 and streamlining the voting rights restoration process for people convicted of a felony. Lucas said McAuliffe’s long history in Virginia politics makes him the best candidate to pull the commonwealth out of the pandemic.

“I have been elected for 30 years and never in my life have I seen anything as historic as this,” Lucas said to applause and the horn of a passing tugboat. “To have a governor who knows how government is supposed to work, a governor who has the skills, the know how, so when you pass that baton over to Terry McAuliffe he’s going to hit the ground running.” 

At a Richmond press conference responding to the endorsement, McClellan baulked at Northam’s implication that McAuliffe was the most qualified candidate. She noted that she has more years of legislative experience than the entire Democratic field combined.

“I’m running for governor because Virginia needs a new perspective,” McClellan said. “Virginia has the worst record of electing women to office. We have the opportunity to change that, and we have the opportunity to do it in a way that meets this moment and the needs of all Virginians moving forward.”

Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas), a self-described socialist who is also running for the gubernatorial nomination, had a different take than Lucas’ on McAuliffe’s political baggage. He described the event on Twitter as “One pro-pipeline, pro-Amazon, pro-casino rich guy endorsing another.”

“We need a Governor who will stop giving our money to big business, and start transforming our economy into one that we, the people of Virginia, own and operate,” Carter wrote.

McAuliffe isn’t the only candidate in the governor’s race to bag high-profile endorsements this election cycle. Carrol Foy also announced an endorsement on Thursday from U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14).

Ben Paviour contributed to this report.