Politics

Ballots in the Air Terry McAuliffe steers the Democratic National Committe

  • The Delta Shuttle Sheet
  • -
  • July, 2001

by Karen Feld

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The Democrats relied on Terry McAuliffe to shatter fund-raising records to get Bill Clinton re-elected, making him the first Democratic president in the past half-century to serve two terms. But McAuliffe, now 43, is not your traditional fund-raiser. He once wrestled an alligator for a $15,000 contribution, and he brags about his prowess in loosening people’s purse strings. Known for an infectious laugh and for being at times a loose cannon, McAuliffe chaired the Democratic National Convention last summer in Los Angeles. His “Midas touch” was rewarded when he was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. It surely would have pleased his Irish Catholic father, a former treasurer of the Democratic Party in Onondaga County, New York, who first introduced him to politics.

THE SHUTTLE SHEET: Who is really the head of the Democratic Party?

TERRY MCAULIFFE: I think it’s a combination of people – Tom Daschle [South Dakote], the [Democratic] leader of the Senate, and Dick Gephardt [Missouri] shepherding everybody in the House – they’ve got to really quarterback and fight on all the legislative issues.

SS: How would you describe your job as chairman?

TM: My job is to quarterback all the political activities, to provide the practical tools so that the candidates can run and win elections. I’m probably the most vocal opponent of the Bush administration. I have the harshest words. My job is to rally the base of the party.

SS: If you want to get the message out, which political talk show do you go on?

TM: I don’t want to alienate the other shows, because I have so many friends, but after I got elected, I went on Tom Russert – “Meet the Press.”.

SS: What is your relationship now with Maynard Jackson, who had hoped to land co-chairmanship of the party or the job you now hold, and what are his party responsibilites?

TM: Excellent. I’ve asked Maynard to head up the DNC Voting Rights Institute. We’re going to come up with a voting rights action plan so the problems that occurred in the last election – specifically as it relates to Florida – never occur again.

SS: What is your biggest challenge as chairman, and how are you meeting it?

TM: To develop the comunications infrastructure so that we can get the Democratic message out across the country. We’re retooling the technological base of the party so we can bring ourselves into the 21st century. We’re building up the state parties and the grass roots, and we’re modernizing our voter files. And for the first time, we’re taking a role here at the DNC in running the redistricting around the country.

SS: Tell us about your efforts in the area of redistricting.

TM: We’re putting up over $13 million dollars to assist in that effort – to make sure we can draw the lines where good, diverse Democratic candidates can run and win. These are the seats we will have for the next 10 years. This is why we need to get the communications out so people know for what we stand.

SS: How will your success be defined in these efforts?

TM: Very simple – I will be defined by whether I win elections.

SS: Where is your initial focus?

TM: There are four big elections this year: mayor of L.A., mayor of New York, governor of Virginia and governor of New York. The Democratic Party will sweep all of these elections. We’ll have more than 100 seats in play next year because of redistricting. There will be 34 Senate seats up. We’re going to knock off senators in Oregon, Colorado, New Hampshire and Arkansas. Those four you can bank today. And 36 governorships are up next year.

SS: Who do you see as the up-and-coming stars in the party?

TM: That’s a back-door way to find out who’ll be the candidate in 2004! My best guesstimate is that there’ll be 10 Democrats running for President in 2004. I think that’s good for the party. Perhaps Sen. John Kerry [Massachusetts], Sen. John Edwards [North Carolina], Sen. Joe Lieberman [Connecticut], maybe Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, Sen. Evan Bayh [Indiana], Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia, Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa. [California Gov.] Gray Davis may jump in. And we have a wealth of great candidates all over the country – I call them the farm team.

SS: What about a woman on the ticket?

TM: I clearly hope there’s a woman running. Hilary has told me she will definately NOT run in 2004. We have many Democratic women senators. Clearly only a Democratic woman can win, but I don’t think there’s a bias today.

SS: What’s Al Gore’s future politically?

TM: Whatever he wants it to be. He wants to take time off through the summer and will come out very active in the fall to help campaign in those four races I mentioned. He’s committed to help the party and individual candidates.

SS: Do you think people want a fresh face four years down the road?

TM: It’s too early to tell. Americans love fights; we love rematches. It’s up to the vice president if he wants to run again. Even if he runs, I think there will be many other candidates in the race. I think it’ll be a healthy primary, but that’s good for the Democratic Party.

SS: Will Bill Clinton be out there campaigning in those four races coming up as well?

TM: Absolutely.

SS: Will President Clinton ever run for office again?

TM: I can unequivocally tell you that Bill Clinton will never run again for office. After having been president, having the highest job in the world, he will never again run for office.

SS: Do you think your close friendship with Bill Clinton and his final controversial pardons tarnish your ability to raise money?

TM: No. I doubt many people in the party could raise more money than I can.

SS: How much do you hope to raise in the next election cycle?

TM: We’re going to raise about $50 million this year. We haven’t done next year’s budget yet.

SS: Which is more important for the future of the party, the midterm elections or the next presidential election?

TM: It’s not one versus the other. The days when the DNC was thought of as a presidential campaign committee are over. We are a full-time campaign effort today working to win four big elections this year.

-Karen Feld

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