McAuliffe and the Clintons: A Friendship with Benefits, Risks for Both

October 28, 2013

Technically, the gathering this month was a fundraiser for Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for Virginia governor. But to those in attendance, it felt like a cozy family get-together. There, in the wood-paneled study of McAuliffe’s father-in-law’s Florida home, Bill Clinton stood with his arm draped around the shoulders of the candidate’s wife, Dorothy.

The former president waxed nostalgic about watching the McAuliffes’ five children grow into young adults, rattling off their names as he reminisced. He sounded more like a proud uncle than the political heavyweight who had flown in to hustle up money for their dad’s campaign.

Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton have their own separate circles of personal friends and political advisers. But confidants say the McAuliffes are the rare individuals who cross into both spheres, part of a genuine friendship that is unusual at the highest level of politics.

The two couples are “as close to family as it can be without being blood, and it may even be blood by osmosis after all the time they’ve spent next to each other,” said John Morgan, a lawyer who co-hosted the Orlando area fundraiser for about 30 donors. “It has transcended friendship into love.”

Bill and Hillary, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, are leveraging their popularity in an all-out push to help McAuliffe win the governorship. On Sunday, Bill kicked off a four-day, nine-city tour of Virginia with McAuliffe, while Hillary will raise money for him this week in California.

“I love Terry McAuliffe — and his wife and his five kids,” Bill Clinton said Sunday night at a Hampton rally. “I’d be here if he were 50 points behind instead of about to be your next governor.”

The relationship carries political rewards and risks for both families. If McAuliffe wins the Nov. 5 election, the Clintons will have a trusted ally controlling one of the most important presidential swing states. But McAuliffe’s actions as governor would also reflect upon the Clintons, positively or negatively, far more than the actions of any other officeholder. McAuliffe’s history of using his deep political connections to benefit his private business portfolio would be put under a microscope again if Hillary Clinton runs for the White House.

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