Va. race a springboard for strategist

Terry McAuliffe’s campaign manager has played a crucial role in turning a flawed candidate into the strong favorite to be Virginia’s next governor — and in turn likely helped his own future job prospects by boosting the longtime ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Robby Mook is a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and sources familiar with the former secretary of State’s network have long said he’d be on the short list to manage her presidential campaign should she choose to run again.

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A big win for McAuliffe — and for Mook — could cement the strategist’s standing with both Clintons, who are close friends of Virginia’s likely next governor and have been actively campaigning on his behalf.

“This will only enhance [Mook’s] standing. If he’s not the best campaign manager on the Democratic side, certainly he’s in the top two or three,” said Democratic lobbyist Gordon Giffin, a close ally of the Clintons who was a top fundraising bundler for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

“There are a lot of people who have historically been involved with Secretary Clinton and President Clinton who have extraordinarily high opinions of Robby. Who knows if Hillary runs what decisions will be made on staffing, but it’s obvious Robby is close to the Clintons and that this [Virginia] campaign has been very well run.”

McAuliffe, an ally of the Clintons for decades, was co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

As a candidate for office, he had little success prior to this year’s gubernatorial race.

He failed to even win the Democratic primary when he first ran for Virginia governor in 2009, finishing a distant second place to an underfunded opponent.

This time around, he has built a huge lead in the polls and appears to be on the verge of winning a decisive victory over Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) on Nov. 5 in the swing state.

McAuliffe holds an 11-point lead over Cuccinelli according to a Washington Post poll released this week. That’s a big shift from midsummer polling that found a tied race.

Many credit Mook for running a near-flawless campaign, relentlessly attacking Cuccinelli (R) as corrupt and too conservative. At the same time, he’s won praise for effectively parrying GOP attacks that McAuliffe’s success has been built on cronyism.

McAuliffe’s approval ratings have actually risen in the polls over the last six weeks — from 48 percent to 53 percent in the latest Post poll — a rarity in hard-hitting races.

His campaign has zeroed in on Cuccinelli’s past comments on gays and abortion to paint him as outside the mainstream. McAuliffe was also helped by a huge fundraising and spending advantage and fallout from the government shutdown, which hit Virginia hard and has widely been blamed on the GOP.

But Mook’s specialty, voter turnout operations and microtargeting, has yet to be put on full display.

“His field skills are unmatched; they’re as good as it gets,” Democratic strategist Steve Murphy said. “The best of the McAuliffe campaign is yet to come.”

The Clintons have worked hard to help McAuliffe, with both Hillary and Bill fundraising and campaigning for their old friend.

Hillary’s appearance earlier this month for McAuliffe was her first campaign stop since stepping down as secretary of State. Hillary Clinton and Mook had a brief meeting following one of her fundraisers for McAuliffe.

Mook’s work for McAuliffe follows time running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2012 election cycle.

He drew high praise from Democrats for his work on a campaign in which Democrats netted eight House seats.

Mook also ran Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) winning campaign in 2008.  Before that, he helped Clinton win three important battleground states over then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.): Nevada, Ohio and Indiana.

Nevada and Ohio were two high points for Clinton’s primary campaign.

A big win for McAuliffe would be the cherry on top of Mook’s winning streak.

“He’s always been considered one of the best we have,” Democratic strategist Joe Trippi said. “A big win on Tuesday puts an exclamation mark on that.”

Mook has refused to speculate on what his plans are after McAuliffe’s campaign and did not respond to a request to comment on this story.

The Clintons are also said to give high praise to Guy Cecil, another alum of the 2008 campaign who currently runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But Democrats in Clinton’s circle and across the party say a convincing victory for McAuliffe will only elevate Mook’s already-high stock.

“I’ve got no idea what Robby’s interested in doing next, but if you’re looking for the perfectly run campaign, this is it. Show me a single mistake,” Murphy said. “Robby is definitely ready for the next step.

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