Democrats Now Run the 'Ultimate Swing State' And Why it Matters for Hillary Clinton

PHOTO: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds Virginia gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, during a campaign rally, Women for Terry, at the State Theater in Falls Church, Va. on Oct. 19, 2013. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds Virginia gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, during a campaign rally, Women for Terry, at the State Theater in Falls Church, Va. on Oct. 19, 2013.

Now that Terry McAuliffe has been elected governor, Hillary Clinton has a best friend in Virginia. If she runs for president in 2016, she may well need it.

Winning the state of Virginia has become a must-do for anyone seeking the White House. The state has picked the winning president in the last four elections, and in the last two elections, its vote breakdown has matched the national outcome.

Democrats aren't willing to talk about what McAuliffe's election victory in Virginia means for Clinton. But they will credit her and other surrogates for helping turn out key parts of the electorate in the campaign's final days.

If Clinton is to win the White House in 2016, she'll need to win Virginia—something neither she, in the 2008 primary, nor President Bill Clinton has ever done.

"Having one of their best friends as governor of the new ultimate swing state can only be a plus," said director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, Larry Sabato.

Here are some consequences of McAuliffe's win that could have repercussions for Clinton—and Democrats—down the road.

A Friend in the Governor's Mansion

For the first time in more than 30 years, Virginia voters have elected a governor of the same party as the sitting president, with a little help from longtime friends and allies Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton used McAuliffe's campaign to dive back into electoral politics after a more than four-year hiatus. She stumped, raised money and appealed to the personal character of her friend.

"We have watched Terry and Dorothy build and raise a family with five extraordinary children, we've gotten to know those children, Dory and Jack and Mary and Sally and Peter," Clinton said at an October rally for McAuliffe. "We vacationed with them, they have been in and out of our lives as long as they have been alive."

"It says a lot about a person about the values that they pass on to the next generation," she continued.

McAuliffe has also served as one of the Clintons' most trusted political advisors, skilled fundraisers, and now adds experience winning a critical purple state to his resume.

The Way to Win: Good Staff

If you know a Clinton you know McAuliffe, and vice versa.

So it's no surprise that McAuliffe's campaign was littered with Clinton alums and prospective Clinton aides.

McAuliffe's campaign manager Robby Mook, a young, known quantity and a well-respected political hand who has roots in Clinton's 2008 campaign, is rumored to be a contender to run a Clinton presidential campaign.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, another 2008 Clinton hand, also worked with McAuliffe, and several Clinton donors and fundraisers, who McAuliffe knows well from his days raising millions for Bill and Hillary, pitched in as well.

Though McAuliffe's was ultimately a narrow victory, the organizational know-how of the McAuliffe staff will be a crucial resource to whoever becomes the next Democratic presidential candidate—especially if that person is Clinton.

As candidates, both McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli were far from perfect. But Democrats credit the turn-out operation—in addition to voters' nervousness about Cuccinelli's ultra-conservatism, according to exit polls—with delivering the edge.

"He stayed focused, he stayed disciplined, and he out-organized the other guy," Begala said. "That's really how these things are decided: by finding your voters and turning them out."

The Democratic Coaltion Came to Bat

Democrats are probably the most proud of the take-no-prisoners approach employed by a cadre of outside groups who collectively poured millions into this election on McAuliffe's behalf.

To name a few, labor groups spent $2.5 million, Planned Parenthood spent more than $1.5 million, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun control super PAC Independence USA spent $2 million.

Aside from a barrage of negativity on the airwaves, the coordinated effort gave outside groups a model that they can use going forward in the 2014 elections and beyond.

"As the old saying goes, if you can do that in Virginia, you can do that anywhere," said Stu Loeser, spokesman for Independence USA on a victory lap conference call with reporters a day after the Virginia election.

If she runs, Clinton is likely to be campaigning at a time when unlimited outside spending by political groups will be more robust than ever. And the help of an army of outside groups and their deep pockets will go a long way.

A Changing Electorate

Demographic changes and other ways of making the electorate more favorable to Democrats has become the Party's gospel in the post-Barack Obama era.

Democrats didn't go into this Virginia governor race with a lot of political advantages—their candidate had his share of baggage, the Commonwealth has a long conservative history, and voters' deeply negative feelings about Washington could have been toxic to McAuliffe by virtue of his long history as a Democratic political hand.

But two things made a big difference in an odd year election: money and turn-out.

Specifically, they'll be talking a lot more about one particular group of people who came out in relatively large numbers for McAuliffe on Tuesday: unmarried women.

Cuccinelli, Virginia's current attorney general, was firmly against abortion, and abortion rights groups created a campaign ad that linked the Republican candidate with a state legislature bill (which never passed) that would have required women who sought abortions to have vaginal ultrasounds.

Obama won Virginia's unmarried women by 29 points, 64-35, in 2012, but Terry McAuliffe won them by 42 points—67 to 25.

They are a subsection of voters that Democrats believe will become an increasingly important part of the electorate—especially by 2016.

"I'd say the most important demographic though was those unmarried women," Begala said. "If I were to thank anybody it would be Michelle [Obama] and Hillary." Both campaigned for him.

"The guys are good, but you know those two women really helped."