You’ve heard of the movies Bad Teacher and Bad Santa? Someone should make a flick about Terry McAuliffe and call it Bad Candidate.
We’ve seen lots of bad ones over the years – Mitt Romney, Al Gore, Bob Dole, it’s a very long list – but the 2013 baddie prize seems destined for McAuliffe, the former Democratic national chairman and Bill Clinton pal who seems poised to lose the year’s marquee race, the governorship of Virginia.
Wait, let me amend that: Democrat McAuliffe seems well poised to blow a very winnable race in a state that has been steadily trending Democratic. He’s worth a few hundred words today for the fascination factor alone; it’s like rubbernecking on the highway to gape at a car wreck.
In the latest Washington Post poll, McAuliffe, widely nicknamed “The Macker,” is trailing his Republican opponent by 10 points among those who are “certain” to vote – which is quite a perverse achievement, given the fact that foe Ken “The Cooch” Cuccinelli is a right-wing extremist who (a) denies the reality of climate change, (b) insists that raped women should be forced to bear their rapists’ children, and (c) believes that oral sex between consenting married adults should remain illegal, under the state Crimes Against Nature law, which he defends.
By now, an ex-Democratic chairman with tons of dough and lots of political celebrity friends should be galvanizing Virginia’s ascendent voters – professional women, people of color – and taking it to The Cooch. Instead, he seems to be tanking. And to understand why, we need only look at his book.
Six years ago, McAuliffe wrote a memoir, What a Party, which chronicles his famous fundraising prowess. McAuliffe – who has never held elective office, and who unsuccessfully sought the 2009 Democratic nomination for governor – made his political rep as a backroom player with a gusto for greenbacks and an itch for networking. Those traits alone are probably enough to turn off the average voter, but memoirist McAuliffe seems to think he’s endearing.
Even when he’s ditching Mrs. McAuliffee while in the throes of childbirth. Does this guy have a tin ear, or what?
BuzzFeed, the political website, flagged this memoir passage, in which McAuliffe recounts the night that his daughter Sarah was born: “I was trying hard not to appear restless, but I am not one to sit still for long and soon I was going stir-crazy, which drove Dorothy nuts. ‘Isn’t there something you need to do?’ she finally said. I told her The Washington Post was having a party that evening for Lloyd Grove, who wrote the ‘Reliable Source’ column. ‘Go!’ she said. ‘You’re like a caged animal here. I’ll call you if I need you.’ I went flying out the door and drove to the party.”
Then there was the time that Dorothy was preparing to give birth to his son Jack. It was 1993, and President Clinton was working on health care reform: “Dorothy was suffering through the pain of labor, and the doctors and I were having a heated argument.” An argument about Dorothy’s pain or her drugs? Uh, no. He was pitching Clinton’s health reform plan. “I was almost shouting by then…We were making so much noise that we got kicked out of the delivery room by a nurse who made Nurse Ratched look like Mother Teresa.”
Nothing like a talking point to help the wife in her time of trouble. But hey, at least he didn’t go “flying out the door.”
Nor did he fly when his son Peter was born. Instead, he waited until Dorothy and the newborn were bundled into the car for the ride home from the hospital. He then drove them to a fundraiser. He left them in the car so he could work the room: “We got to the dinner and by then Dorothy was in tears, and I left her…and went inside….I was inside for maybe fifteen minutes, said a few nice things and hurried back out to the car.”
Then comes my favorite line: “I felt bad for Dorothy, but it was a million bucks for the Democratic party.”
Wrestling for cash
Gee. I wonder whether candidate McAuliffe will get any traction talking about a Republican war on women. Not surprisingly, the Post poll reports that he’s having problems consolidating the women who help comprise the Democratic base. A candidate is particularly bad when he undercuts himself with his own words, but McAuliffe’s problem is even worse: Those words aren’t just written, they’re also spoken. He did an audio version of the memoir – and now the Republicans are featuring his voice in a new ad about his childbirth adventures. (The GOP would have been nuts to skip this opportunity.)
McAuliffe’s woes aren’t new, however. He essentially kicked off his Virginia bid in July ’12 by launching an electric car company that promised to employ 1,500 people; the company wound up locating in Mississippi, where, at last glance, it employs only 78. That’s not good for a guy whose campaign slogan is “Putting Jobs First.” He also didn’t acknowledge until last month that he had resigned as company chairman last year.
I’ll give The Macker some points for being colorful; it’s entertaining that he once wrestled an alligator in exchange for a donation. True story. Back in the mid-’80s, the wunderkind hustler was trying to pry money from a group of Seminole Indians in Florida, and he offered a deal: He’d wrestle an alligator (one was nearby, weighing 260 pounds), and if he came away unscathed, they’d have to give 15 grand. He did, and they duly ponied up for the Democratic party.
But a candidate who’s about nothing except chasing money is truly a bad candidate.
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