CORRECTION: The article about the business background of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terence R. McAuliffe incorrectly said that McAuliffe described himself as a huckster in his autobiography. McAuliffe described himself as a hustler in the book.
Terry McAuliffe has a simple message for Virginia: Elect him governor this year and he will bring jobs, because he has more business experience than anyone else in the race.
Yet McAuliffe's business pedigree is not so simple. He is a dealmaker who made millions from investments. And many of his biggest deals came in partnership with prominent donors and politicians, creating a portrait over the years of a Washington insider who got rich as he rose to power within the Democratic Party.
McAuliffe is, at his core, a salesman -- and even called himself a "huckster" in his autobiography. In his bid for governor this year, McAuliffe is selling the idea that his uncanny knack for making money can bring prosperity to all Virginia. But at a time when public mistrust of millionaires and politicians is high, that strategy could backfire.
"People are somewhat skeptical at the moment of certain kinds of business dealings," said Robert D. Holsworth, a political scientist and author of the blog Virginia Tomorrow. "There is a populist resentment that's directed at both government and business simultaneously. I don't know how that's going to play out."
McAuliffe faces Brian Moran and R. Creigh Deeds in the June 9 Democratic primary; the winner will face Republican Robert F. McDonnell in the fall.
On the campaign trail, McAuliffe has repeatedly used local businesses as the backdrop for his political rallies. He tells audiences that he has been a one-man engine for job creation for decades.
Wearing a hard hat recently while touring a trash incinerator that converts waste to energy, McAuliffe sloshed through trash ooze in hiking boots. "I love landfills!" he declared, machine-gunning his tour guide with questions and barraging his staff with ideas to jot down. "Oh, wow!" he gasped while looking at a four-story mountain of trash.
Such hands-on displays, along with an endless stream of exuberant one-liners ("I started my first business at 14!"), reveal a showman and salesman.
But they belie the complexity of a business career built mostly on intricate land deals and dot-com investments, often with wealthy political donors -- and sometimes with no jobs to show for it.
After graduating from Georgetown Law, McAuliffe has been forming partnerships, raising capital and investing in business ventures. He has earned millions as a banker, real estate developer, home builder, hotel owner, Internet venture capitalist and credit-card marketer.
For McAuliffe, politics and business have always been intertwined.
He was Richard Gephardt's national finance chairman and later gave Gephardt a loan from the bank he led, Federal City National Bank. He worked with then-House Whip Tony Coelho on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s and later worked with him at a Washington real estate brokerage, the Boland Group.
One of McAuliffe's most lucrative deals, earning him $8 million, was a $100,000 investment in Global Crossing Holdings in the 1990s. The company's chief, Gary Winnick, later became a contributor for whom McAuliffe secured a golf date with President Bill Clinton.
McAuliffe made $16 million developing a shopping center in Florida after persuading a top labor leader he knew through the Democratic Party to invest $40 million from the union's pension fund.
He made $1.2 million helping Telergy, an Internet startup firm from his home town, Syracuse, N.Y., secure a $40 million investment from Winnick, the Global Crossing chief.
Telergy paid McAuliffe the referral fee, he recalled, after its executives invited him to serve on the board to help forge contacts with national politicians.
By the end of Clinton's second term, McAuliffe was the president's top fundraiser, well known for working with Clinton to arrange perks for party donors -- and doing business with some of those same donors.
One of those was Carl Lindner, who headed Chiquita Brands International and the insurance company American Financial Group. Although Lindner is known for supporting Republican causes, McAuliffe said he introduced him to Clinton and encouraged him to donate.
About the same time, McAuliffe was also partnering with Lindner in the purchase of American Heritage Homes, a home-building company in central Florida.
McAuliffe said he finds nothing controversial about his mixture of politics and business. "I've done business with people I've met in politics, who I went to law school with, who I grew up with," he said. "Who do you do business with? People you meet in life."
A long history of media coverage portraying McAuliffe as someone who traded his political influence for favorable business deals misses a fundamental point, he says: The deals stood on their own merits.