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The McAuliffe Majority

By David Lytel

February 20, 2001

Terry McAuliffe’s election as chair of the Democratic Party has been viewed skeptically by many in the party’s progressive wing, of which I count myself as a member. I know this because the membership of Democrats.com is overwhelmingly comprised of “aggressive progressives.” But unlike most passionate progressives I am also a member of another community that knows McCauliffe as more than just a fundraising virtuoso. Like McAuliffe, I am from Syracuse, a corner of New York where even to be competitive with the Republican election machinery is a huge achievement.

While the rest of the country knows McAuliffe only as a money guy, up here we know him as a Democrat whose faith in our party and dedication to its principles are deeply rooted, and whose contribution to Democratic success is larger than the talent he is most widely known for.

In Syracuse and surrounding Onondaga County Democratic candidates for office face an uphill battle. Since it is hard to raise the money for a credible campaign it is even harder to find strong candidates willing to run. Anyone who would even think about running for public office has seen dozens of bright, articulate Democrats defeated by Republicans that any test of wits would rank as their inferiors. McAuliffe understands that a strategy for winning elections doesn’t end with raising the money necessary to run, but as long as we’re playing by the rules in place today it often begins there.

The most disturbing comment being made about McAuliffe is that his presence as the head of our party compromises our ability to fight for genuine campaign finance reform. This strikes me as unfair and untrue, both since McAuliffe’s fundraising has always been consistent with the law and because he would be the last person in the world to lay down our arms on an issue that is so potent with the voters or that marks so clearly the distinction between Democrats and Republicans.

Although it has not been his role in the past, up here we expect McAuliffe to be a great spokesman for the Democratic Party, capable of articulating in a thousand different ways why we have a stronger claim to be America’s majority party. Being effective as a spokesperson for the party has taken on greater urgency since the embarassment of former chair Ed Rendell’s disasterous performance in December on the night of the Supreme Court decision in Gore v. Bush. Once again being a Syracusan provided a useful perspective, since up here we’ve all but hung Rendell in effigy for the stunning disrespect he’s shown our favorite son in the NFL, Philadelphia quarterback and former Syracuse University star Donovan McNabb. McAuliffe will never make us suffer the spectacle of the party’s press spokesperson disavowing the remarks made by the party’s chairman, or make us listen to his football commentaries either.

Terry McAuliffe can bridge that distance – between issue-oriented progressive Democrats and the long suffering Democrats in places like Syracuse who need organization and money in order to have any chance of reaching voters and putting our ideas into practice. There is a McAuliffe Majority just starting to be built that will be adequately financed and organized so that it can be what America most urgently needs right now -- a powerful force for realizing the reform agenda.