Jake Johnson Politics

Left Coalition Sees McAuliffe Campaign as an Object Lesson for 2022

Photo of Terry McAuliffe
The loss of Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, to Republican Glenn Youngkin is being cast as a potential bellwether for the 2022 election season.

By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams

A coalition of progressive advocacy organizations warned Wednesday that conservative Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s failed gubernatorial bid in Virginia offers a cautionary lesson for the rest of the party ahead of next year’s midterms: Either excite voters with a bold agenda or risk losing power to the GOP.

As corporate Democrats rushed to baselessly pin McAuliffe’s loss on progressives in Congress, the Battle Born Collective, Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, and United We Dream Action argued in a joint statement that the former Virginia governor’s campaign for his old post was “designed to fail.”

“What happened in Virginia is what happens when Democrats fail to take on the GOP’s divide-and-conquer racism and motivate people to turn out,” the progressive coalition said. “The McAuliffe campaign had no comprehensive pro-worker economic message against a literal private equity magnate.”

Far from offering Virginians a clear policy agenda and a positive vision for the future, McAuliffe—who previously served as chair of the Democratic National Committee—”ran the milquetoast campaign he wanted to run,” the groups continued. “Every other word he uttered was ‘Donald Trump’ instead of focusing on the issues voters cared about the most.”

“This was a controlled experiment for what NOT to do in 2022,” the coalition added. “This is what it looks like when Democrats get caught flat-footed and let Republicans dictate the terms of the debate by manufacturing a fake ‘education crisis.’ It does not have to be this way. There is still time to adopt an inclusive economic message that crowds out racist dog whistles… This should be a wake-up call for Democrats: Give people something to vote for or watch yourselves become the very thing they resoundingly vote against.”

McAuliffe’s loss to Republican Glenn Youngkin and an unexpectedly close gubernatorial race in the blue state of New Jersey were seen as potential harbingers of what’s to come in the 2022 midterms, as Democrats cling to narrow majorities in both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

“The circumstances in the two governor’s races all but confirmed the collapse of the coalition that propelled Democrats to power during the Donald Trump administration and Joe Biden to the presidency in 2020,” the Washington Post reported late Tuesday. “In the election’s wake, there were fresh doubts in the party about Biden’s ability to push his domestic agenda across the finish line, and to repel the new attacks Republicans have opened on culture fronts, especially over schools.”

But progressives argued that Democratic losses in 2022 are not inevitable—as long as the party learns from McAuliffe’s defeat and adjusts its message and actions accordingly.

In a column for Common Dreams on Wednesday, progressive writer Richard Eskow noted that McAuliffe’s campaign website was filled with “vague platitudes and promises” instead of straightforward and popular economic messaging—a serious problem in a race in which voters ranked the economy as the top issue.

The “Economy” section of McAuliffe’s website, for instance, pledged “critical investments in building and training the workforce of the future and ensuring that people of all ages have the skills they need to be successful in the jobs of tomorrow.”

“Terry will achieve this through targeted investments in workforce training and development, partnering with businesses and our educational institutions to re-skill and retrain Virginians, and reimagining our K-12 education system so that every child has access to a world-class education and is workforce-ready upon graduation,” the page reads.

Eskow further observed that, in lieu of a compelling economic platform, McAuliffe attempted to “make the election a referendum on Donald Trump,” a strategy that “was a failure since Trump wasn’t on the ballot.”

“After 10 months of Democratic government in Washington, voters saw little action that improved their lives,” Eskow wrote. “People need real help navigating the current economic crisis.”

In September, McAuliffe sided with corporate Democrats in Congress by describing the Build Back Better Act’s original $3.5 trillion top-line spending level as “too high“—even as polling from the same month showed that nearly 60% of Virginians supported that amount of spending on Democrats’ social spending and climate package.

The reconciliation bill has since been cut roughly in half and stripped of popular provisions such as dental and vision benefits to appease Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and other conservative Democrats in Congress.

In a statement on Wednesday, the We Demand More Coalition—which is composed of dozens of women-led advocacy groups—said that “last night’s elections in Virginia and across the country demonstrated that if Democrats want to remain competitive, they must deliver for the voters who turned out for them in 2020.”

“The Build Back Better Act is a critical investment toward building an economy that truly works for all women, caregivers, and families across demographics and geographic locations,” the coalition added. “While we are grateful to our elected leaders as they fight for these historic investments, last night’s elections showed us that voters need them to get the job done.”

Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, echoed that sentiment, declaring, “This moment demands bold progressive action that meaningfully improves people’s lives.”

“McAuliffe’s loss in Virginia shows why passing a robust recovery plan should be the top priority for congressional Democrats,” Kimelman-Block said Wednesday. “If Democrats want to keep their majorities in Congress next year, they should listen to the progressive champions pushing for a strong Build Back Better plan that lifts everyone up today while investing in our shared future.”


  1. Like the Republican Party, the Democratic Party is a fraud. No significant change is going to be effected by this corrupt political/electoral system. We need to stop paying attention to the political parties and get in the streets to denounce the entire corrupt system. Trump should send a Thank You note to Barack Obama for betraying the people and thereby creating the space for fraudsters like him. Unfortunately, the mainstream media propaganda system still commands such control of the foolish people that they are not yet aware of the need for a general uprising. This may never happen. What is likely in the foreseeable future is a victory for Trump and Proto-fascism replacing any semblance of democracy. In the long run it will not matter due to the destruction of our planet and its inhabitants by nuclear annihilation or global warming. The psychopaths are in charge and are only interested in short term looting, of which they are doing an exemplary job. Too bad, most people don’t understand who is looting them. The End.

    1. You plagiarized my thoughts! Seriously, couldn’t agree more. The political and electoral systems in this country are so rotten-to-the-core and corrupt that there’s no chance of getting anything substantially good out of them. Taking this to the streets is the only hope, albeit a slim one.

  2. Terry is known as pipeline terry. he has always been in the pockets of big money and special interest. he was in charge during the riots in charlottesville. the whole of the democratic party is at fault and we are looking ar four more years of donald. the dems cannot get anything done with the january sixth riots just like russiagate. ten years or more the dems sat on voter tampering all across the country. they say oops each time the gop steals another election. it is pathetic and the voters know. fauci should be fired but we don’t want to upset anyone. somebody better wake up the ole man in the white house or who knows where we’ll end up.

  3. Perhaps it’s best if the Democratic Party goes down in flames, in fact; I’m counting on it. Perhaps people will wake-up and begin to fight back as it seems that the working citizens of this nation need to be pushed to the very edge before they actually say: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” The Republican Party will certainly lead all of us to this conclusion. Will it hurt? God damn right it’ll hurt: ENORMOUSLY! But hey, the Democratic Party has had chance after chance to actually improve the lot of the workers of this nation but they haven’t come through. To those elected officials in the Democratic Party: Leave in mass and become part of the People’s Party, a working class opposition party that’ll actually fight for “WE THE PEOPLE!” A peaceful, non-violent revolution is coming; count on it!

  4. Find and promote candidates who inherently inspire people to elect them because of their character, competence and vision.

    De-essentialize race and other group differences secondary to class division, in favor of a common American identity that most people are looking for and will want to buy into to build a more united egalitarian political-economy. We are for better or worse a two party system for now and the Democratic party has to find a perspective that unites rather than divides.

    Embrace a truly democratic bottom up party structure with politicians beholden to an engaged membership much more than to larger donors.

    Work 24/7 to teach people how to participate in party building and democratic action at the local and state level. This is the key to whole thing. The Democratic party represents few people except its apparatchik who in turn are largely disconnected outliers from the 90%. Contrast this with just how much grass roots action there is in the current Republican party. They may be blindly digging their own and our graves, but you have to admire their dedication and involvement. You cant build a Left wing future, even if at first its center-left, with a top down party of hacks.

    If you aren’t winning elections you aren’t a political party.

    If you win some, lose some because most people dont see dramatically clear differences between you and the opposition, and worse many vote for you as the least evil, rather than a positive good you are a fake party.

  5. There will be no salvation through the ballot box. Capitalism will not voluntarily
    allow more than the slightest palliatives to be enacted. Eventually, the dispossessed
    will stream into the streets – where they will be shot down. Don’t expect to see
    it covered by the corporate media.

    It is said that the Shah of Iran finally had to leave when his own troops and cops
    got sick of mowing down their friends, neighbors, aunts, uncles, etc. Getting regime
    change here will probably take the same.

    1. That’s how successful revolutions happen. When the thugs who protect the rulers refuse to continue doing so, it’s over. Otherwise, it can’t happen, because the thugs are too well-paid and have too much muscle in the way of weapons.

  6. Most votes, research confirms, come down to economic issues. 25 years into the Democrats’ war on the poor, much of their former base. The party keeps moving to the right to pick up the votes of disappointed Republicans.

  7. The Youngkin campaign organization played to white-racist fears and promoted “parental choice in education” as a cover for banning the teaching of Virginia’s racist history in public schools. They preyed on whites’ fears of declining social standing and standards of living to elect a charlatan who will stick it to his voter base (in the wallet) and give huge economic breaks to the wealthy. This whole campaign made me sick. I’m a native Texan, and this campaign stank of the same muck out of which George Bush, Rick Perry, and Greg Abbot crawled. Makes me sick!

    1. I haven’t seen the stats or exit polls, but I’d be willing to bet that this election was far more about Democrats not voting than about fearmongering. The Democratic Party has given regular people absolutely no reason to vote for them. These elections are national, even though it’s a governor’s race. California’s recall election is a perfect example. Virginia is now the bellwether state for the U.S. Unless something major happens to radically change things as they are now, the Democrats are going to get their butts kicked in the midterm elections next year, and they will thoroughly deserve it.

  8. The Democrats in Virginia showed just much they are pathetic tools who can’t even organize a get out the vote drive. In Loudoun County, Youngkin’s people were out talking to drivers at intersections and planting signs. What did McAuliffe’s people do? Jack squat. No wonder the Dems lose in the states. They have written off local politics in favor of the big, national races. The Democrat Party is a money making business masquerading as a party. What a bu ch of total holes!

    1. Starting with Bill Clinton, the Democrats have written off working- and even middle class people in favor of corporate American and suburbanite jerks. The Democrats were never that great, but they got substantially worse because of Bill Clinton and his group. Too bad Bush I didn’t win that election. For one thing, Bush couldn’t get NAFTA passed. For another, maybe it would have sent a message to the Democrats that moving to the right in order to win elections is not the right way to go.

  9. Stop promoting the duopoly. Stop framing electoral politics as if we only have two choices, which we know are really no-choice.
    We do have a choice. We can choose NOT to vote or to vote third party. Somehow that never gets mentioned, when it is the only thing that should be mentioned.
    Instead we’re suppose to get all riled up because a sellout Democrat lost to a corporate shill Republican. Bummer.
    STOP voting for the duopoly.

    1. We need no less than proportional representation, complete prohibition of private campaign financing, AND equal TV time for all candidates. Anything less, take it to the streets and don’t vote (or vote Green or some other non-corporate party).

  10. This “coalition of progressives” cannot be called “LEFT” when they endorsed Biden.
    This coalition has proven to be made of establishment shills.
    This coalition is anything but LEFT.
    If LEFT is to stand for anything we cannot let it be used to label sellouts.

    1. The role of the squad, starting with Ocasio-Cortez, is to sheepdog otherwise progressive people into the Democratic Party. This negates any power they may have, and saps their energy by forcing them to constantly battle members of the party to try to get anything progressive done.

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