But Mr. McAuliffe also seems to have learned from his first run for governor of Virginia in 2009, when he was tagged as a carpetbagger and lost in the Democratic primary. In the years since, he has applied his famously effective scratch-my-back skills to the state’s Democratic hierarchy, which rewarded him by preventing a primary challenge this year.
“He’s been the highlight of fund-raisers, hundreds of them all over the state in the last four years,” said Richard Saslaw
, the Democratic leader in the State Senate.
As a political moneyman, Mr. McAuliffe was known for a Barnum-like exuberance, with Al Gore once lightly mocking him as “the greatest fund-raiser in the history of the universe.” This year he has far outdone his rival. His campaign has collected $34.4 million, compared with Mr. Cuccinelli’s $19.7 million, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
After his humiliating defeat in the 2009 Democratic primary, Mr. McAuliffe sought to ingratiate himself with party officials statewide, writing checks from his own fortune for about $140,000 to scores of state candidates. The amounts were not huge — $500 to $15,000 — but they made an impact.
“It tells people, ‘I care enough to do the little things, the important things, and to let you know I’m watching and I care about what happens to you,’ ” said David Marsden
, a state senator who was a beneficiary. “When your birthday comes around, it’s just a matter of when he’s going to call you.”
Even so, early polls last winter showed Mr. Cuccinelli leading Mr. McAuliffe, whom many Democrats viewed as a weak candidate. Other contenders heard from supporters that they should get in the race. One was Tom Perriello, a former congressman and a progressive star among Democrats.
Several Virginia Democrats said friends of Mr. McAuliffe helped persuade Mr. Perriello not to run in a primary against him. One longtime Democrat, who declined to be identified while talking about private discussions, said it was made clear to Mr. Perriello that Mr. McAuliffe would have the strong backing of the Clintons. Mr. Perriello considered running but passed.