Inside the McAuliffe Campaign: Polling, Dancing, and Tumult as the Finish Line Approaches -- Part 1

AP Photo/Steve Helber

In an exclusive for RedState, fictional freelancer Martin I. Tiburon provides a glimpse at the inner workings of Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign.

A behind-the-scene look of the past week inside a Democratic campaign, tiki torches and all.

The Numbers Station

I was briefly engrossed, looking over the CNN analysis of the Virginia governor’s race. Jim Acosta was in the process of leveling a number of accusations about the GOP candidate, Glenn Youngkin, and things he had been quoted as saying. After watching the segment, it dawned on me: all the attributions to things Youngkin said seemed to come from his Democrat opposition, former governor Terry McAuliffe. I restarted the segment, but then was interrupted.

“Martin, c’mon.”

I looked from my laptop, as Renzo Oliveri breezed by my station. Terry McAuliffe’s press secretary, who everyone in the office calls Zo, was briskly making it to the conference room, where Jake Rubenstein stood, a groaning expression on his mug. The Chief of Staff had recently bellowed, “Media – now,” across the office, and Christina Freundlich was also scurrying over to the room. I was apparently included in this impromptu meeting.

Just over one month earlier I had become embedded in the campaign, working as a freelancer with a prospective job for Mother Jones. [Note: They ultimately declined to run this piece, as a result of “not being news-worthy.'”] I was to deliver an inside look, warts and all, of how a contemporary political campaign operates. When I first arrived a kicked-over-anthill atmosphere meant I was hurriedly given a spot to watch, then the revolving nature of staffers meant, eventually, I became an accepted entity in the offices.

Election 2021 Virginia Governor
                               AP Photo/Steve Helber

Before long it became apparent everyone just accepted that I worked there and so, being granted more access, I never corrected the assumption. Through a version of chaotic osmosis I was installed as a member of the media team, and now I was being included in this meeting.

I followed my pattern of behavior and took a spot off to the side and kept silent. My focusing on my phone or typing away was presumed to be me working. I was, actually — not just as a show for them. 

“These numbers, gang — what are we doing about them?!” Rubenstein tossed sheets on the desk, results of the recent polls showing their opponent, Glenn Youngkin had taken a slight edge. 

“Shouldn’t we wait for Cliff?” Christina referred to the candidate, Terry McAuliffe, in their shorthand manner, which is never used around him.

“He’s nearly here,” said the boss. “But this is our problem, so it’s our fix. The margin of error is out the door, this is a legit tie!” Stern looks were traded, and then Zo muttered his offering.

“It might be time. Operation Trader Vic is still an option.”

Rubenstein rubbed the back of his neck, clearly hesitant. I had heard this phrase uttered on occasion, but anytime I inquired I was met with hesitation. I kept myself from digging too ardently, fearing I could reveal my safe placement, so I kept my mouth shut and ears open, and here it is reared once again.

But then, noises rose from out in the office, and we all knew the candidate had returned from that morning’s press appearance. More than one set of eyes closed, the memory of Terry McAuliffe’s attempted dancing still fresh from the media cycle.

“Hey now, there’s my brain trust!” he said, bursting into the conference room. “Did you guys see it? How did it go? How is it doing?  Did I go virus yet?”

McAuliffe felt like he had tapped into something special recently. While preparing for a previous event Renzo happened to show a clip of Donald Trump doing his signature tilting, non-dance routine at a rally. Terry hit upon the idea of doing something similar, only managing to somehow come up with something worse. His was a spasmodic set of gyrations so bad they were inevitably sent across social media, which was misinterpreted by him as a positive sign. Now he seemed intent to make his Elaine Benes choreography into his trademark. He may have succeeded.

 

“We haven’t checked with the social team on that yet. Right now we are focusing on something else.” Rubenstein’s meaty finger tapped the papers. “We just got some numbers.”

After correcting McAuliffe that he did not mean phone numbers, a sheet was pushed towards him. “Fox is showing that twerp in a vest is moving ahead of you.”

This crushed Terry’s dance visions. He looked over the numbers, and then his face brightened.

“Well s**t, that’s Fox News. These numbers don’t count — It’s Fox!”

Christina looked morose and muttered that they do in fact count. McAuliffe forced the issue more, but she interjected.

“We have to listen to these figures because weeks back, when you were in the lead, we kept pushing their poll. The thinking was if Fox was saying you were leading, that was more significant.”

For a time they all traded ideas, and then McAuliffe slapped the table.

“Okay, we’ll go with the homophobic angle today. We’ll say Marty McFly has said anti-gay stuff in the past.” This was Terry being dismissive of Youngkin. He always found it humorous to compare Youngkin’s affection for wearing fleece vests to the Michael J. Fox character in the “Back To The Future” movies.

“I don’t know that he has actually said anything homophobic, though,” replied Renzo.

“SO?!” shouted the candidate. With that Christina hurried out to go to the social media kids and have them start sending out dispatches.

Then McAuliffe turned to Rubenstein. “Is he still coming? Are you sure this is a good idea?” Terry was referring to the fact that the next day Joe Biden was arriving to campaign on McAuliffe’s behalf, something that everyone viewed as a paradox. Biden’s popularity has been cratering, but then so has their candidate’s poll numbers. The President was being seen as a necessary evil. 

“What if,” theorized Renzo, “we put out a preemptive release, pointing out how Terry here was polling at a percentage that is higher than Biden’s approval numbers?”

This was met with approval and the meeting adjourned.

Spin Class

That afternoon Zo was by the desk I had been supplied with weeks ago, bouncing ideas off of me on the position for certain stories. Currently, he was asking if I thought parents of school kids were a motivated voting block. That was when McAuliffe approached, snapping his fingers, a song clearly in his head.

“Hey, Terry,” said Zo as a greeting, “James Carville sent another email.”

Terry threw his head back, clearly annoyed.

“I KNOW! That’s like what, his fifth one today?! He acts like he is the only person to ever run a campaign!” Then Christina Freundlich raced up to us, her cell phone clutched between her hands, anxious and speaking in rushed whispers.

“It’s Chris Cillizza!” This announcement was met with unanimous apathy from us, though she was clearly agitated with some information.

Zo calmly took her phone and then hit the MUTE button on the screen.

Stacey Abrams
                           AP Photo/Steve Helber

“What’s the issue?”

“It’s about the Stacey Abrams event yesterday. He says he is forced to write about Terry mentioning her election result and how she actually won. He says he has to cover it as a voter fraud-adjacent piece.” Renzo looked away for a moment, then he steeled himself, and unmuted the phone.

“Hey, Chris – it’s Renzo! How’s everything? How are the kids?… Yea? He actually likes wearing the mask to school? Well, that’s safe, right…so, what do you have for us?… Oh, well yes, he did say that, but that is known… right, but that is FAR different than what Trump is doing… How?”

He shot us all a quick look.

“Well the Georgia mess has been well documented, and Stacey has become a real hero in the party as a result… I know, I know, but the difference is Trump has not proven anything… I get that, but can’t you spin this in a way that is less impactful?…Well… how about this, make it a point to highlight Trump on the matter, as much as you can? Just mention him frequently and the Big Lie, keep that angle in front. Then you can point out that the big difference is that Trump has been saying these things for months now…Right, right, just highlight that he has been talking it up since January. Okay, great Chris — sounds awesome. We’ll talk” 

There was a sense of relief, at least for the moment, with the group. Then I noticed one detail.

“Hasn’t Abrams been saying these things for years now?” I asked.

— Part 2 of this exclusive behind-the-scenes report will be upcoming, including the dramatic events surrounding the Charlottesville tiki torch brigade!

Editor’s note: this is a parody piece (that is, satire). Direct all resulting scorn and praise to Brad Slager at the usual places.