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On Eve of Primary, Rivals Seek to Chip at McAuliffe's Advantage

Jennifer McClellan smiles as she listens to supporters at a park in Richmond
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan talks to supporters with Care in Action, an advocacy group, on Monday morning. (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe brings assets that are the envy of the four other candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary: a long roster of endorsements, a deep reservoir of cash, and promising poll numbers to back up his re-election bid. 

But McAuliffe’s rivals are using the final stretch of campaigning to stress what they say the former governor lacks: A new face for a new era of Virginia politics. Two Black women on the ballot – former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) -- say they’re more likely to energize the base and bridge coalitions that make up the party against the GOP’s nominee, businessman Glenn Youngkin. No Black woman has been elected governor in the U.S. 

"We don’t do well with two out-of-touch millionaire politicians at the top of the ticket who don’t understand the challenges that Virginians face,” Carroll Foy said in an interview in Richmond. “I've been in this position before and I've been able to bring people together and win in areas and places where we typically don't.” 

Carroll Foy has run on a biography she says will resonate with Virginia voters: a childhood in the struggling city of Petersburg, an education at Virginia Military Academy when it was only beginning to welcome women, a career as a public defender, and her 2017 election win flipping a Republican seat in the House of Delegates. 

McClellan has been more subdued in drawing distinctions with McAuliffe, focusing on a 16-year legislative record that eclipses anyone else in the field. But she's also used her run to tell the stories of Black family members who inspired her service, including a father and grandfather who paid poll taxes in the Jim Crow era. At a stop with supporters with the advocacy group Care in Action in Richmond’s Jackson-Ward, she joked Monday morning’s heat evoked another relative: A grandmother who was pregnant 14 times on the Gulf Coast in a home without air conditioning. 

“So if you think this is uncomfortable, I want you to remember that and then go knock on one more door,” she joked. “Because that's part of part of why we're doing this: I'm tired of fighting the same fights that my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents fought. And I will not leave those fights to my kids or yours.” 

Nearly half of likely Democratic primary voters  polled by Roanoke College say they intend to vote for McAuliffe as their nominee for governor compared to about ten percent each for Caroll Foy and McClellan. Nearly three-quarters have a favorable view of the former governor. He’s won an endorsement from current Gov. Ralph Northam, who can’t run again because Virginia’s constitution forbids consecutive terms.  

At a stop at Hardywood Brewery in Richmond on Monday evening, a hoarse McAuliffe vowed to continue Democratic policies and bring in new jobs, saying he had “more energy for this job than I had when I was born.”  The prolific fundraiser stressed his experience as former governor, where he shot down Republican legislation on issues like abortion and gun rights. 

McAuliffe spent much of his short speech talking about Youngkin. McAuliffe pointed to the businessman's endorsement from former President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“They don't like Ted Cruz in Texas, let alone in Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “We've had eight great years. We've gotta make them 12.”

Lt. Gov.  Justin Fairfax and Del.  Lee Carter (D-Manassas) are also in the race.  

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.  

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include McAuliffe's stop in Richmond.


Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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