The former governor of Virginia, four years removed from the end of his first term, is vying for another shot at leading the commonwealth, running as the closest thing to an incumbent in a place that bars governors from serving successive terms. McAuliffe enters the race as the clear frontrunner, buoyed by a significant fundraising advantage, a who's who list of endorsements and near total name recognition. But both Democratic politics and Virginia have changed since McAuliffe's successful 2013 run, a shift exemplified by the Democratic legislature -- which went blue in 2019 with McAuliffe's help -- moving to abolish the death penalty, tighten gun laws and reckon with the legacy of the Confederacy in a commonwealth closely tied to the Civil War South. With less than three months until the Democratic gubernatorial primary, McAuliffe -- who faced no primary challenge eight years ago -- is now being pushed by younger, more liberal challengers to explain how a leader synonymous with the political establishment reflects the future of the commonwealth and not the politics of a bygone era.
The anti-McAuliffe charge ahead of the June 8 primary has been led by former Virginia delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Del. Lee Carter, two gubernatorial candidates who have been unabashedly critical of the former governor. Two other Democrats -- state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax -- haven't been as pointed in their criticism of McAuliffe, but they have all echoed a similar message: McAuliffe's time has passed. "He was the right candidate for that moment. He was the right governor for that moment," said McClellan, referring to McAuliffe's 2013 bid, which she supported. "Times have changed. Virginia has changed."