RICHMOND, Va. — With longtime friend Hillary Clinton looking strong in Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe sounds a bit like the bored Maytag repairman.
He’s keeping a close watch on how the state is shaping up for the Democratic presidential nominee, checking polls daily and regularly calling campaign staff.
“He definitely checks in a lot,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook.
But there isn’t a whole lot for McAuliffe to do.
Virginia was supposed to be a key battleground state and the high energy governor was expected to bounce around the Old Dominion in the run up to Election Day, helping Clinton pursue the state’s 13 electoral votes.
A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, McAuliffe is part of Clinton’s inner circle and was chairman of her failed 2008 presidential bid. A loss this year in Virginia would be a blow to McAuliffe’s political reputation, but the expected high stakes battle has not lived up to the hype.
The governor says Clinton has maintained a lead of 7 to 12 percentage points for months in the internal polls he looks at nightly. Public polling has also shown Clinton with consistent leads and Clinton has shifted money, personnel and campaign visits to other states. Republican Donald Trump and running mate Mike Pence have been frequent visitors, but the campaign has not invested heavily in media advertising here. On Thursday, the Trump campaign said it was shifting some staff to North Carolina.
That’s left McAuliffe to take an understated approach to helping Clinton — largely hosting fundraisers and trying to pump up campaign volunteers on weekends.
“What I mostly do is check in with the team to make sure everything is moving smoothly,” said McAuliffe. “You know, maybe it would be a different story today if we were ten points down, but we’ve been up for so long here.”
The governor has spent years helping Clinton indirectly. McAuliffe has raised and spent tens of millions boosting the Democrats’ ability to target voters and get them to vote, both during his pricey 2013 gubernatorial run and in the 2015 legislative races.
Mook said that investment has been helpful, but McAuliffe’s greatest contribution has been as governor focused on creating jobs, increasing investment in education and pulling in solid approval ratings.
“Honestly, the most helpful thing that we have is his success,” said Mook, who also managed McAuliffe’s 2013 gubernatorial race.
Trump’s acting campaign chairman in Virginia, John Fredericks, said polls have never accurately reflected the billionaire businessman’s popularity. Fredericks said McAuliffe’s spending won’t be able to match the enthusiasm of Trump’s supporters.
“This is the epic battle: it’s McAuliffe’s paid staff operatives versus our army of volunteers,” Fredericks said.
Helping a presidential candidate win Virginia is a way for the Old Dominion’s governors — who are limited to one consecutive term — to help burnish their reputations.
Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, told his staff when he was Virginia’s governor that flipping the state from a reliable red state to a blue state in the 2008 presidential election would be a “huge legacy item for us.”
“I cannot overestimate the importance of reaching for this goal,” Kaine wrote in a memo archived at the Library of Virginia.
McAuliffe said a Clinton victory in Virginia would be an “important milestone” for him personally but scoffs at the notion that it’s his whole reason for being in the Executive Mansion.
It’s a charge Republicans have made often since McAuliffe took office. For instance, when McAuliffe moved to restore voting and other civil rights to more than 200,000 felons, Republicans said it was a ploy to “ensure that convicted pedophiles, rapists, and domestic abusers can vote for Hillary Clinton.”
McAuliffe has denied that his move to restore voting rights was politically motivated and said his top focus has always been, and will remain, on running the state.
“Hillary and I have talked about this a lot: the best thing I can do for her is to do a good job as governor,” McAuliffe said