WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- Terry McAuliffe became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in February 2001. A graduate of the Catholic University of America, McAuliffe was raised in Syracuse, N.Y., where his father was the treasurer of the local Democratic organization. An attorney, he received a Juris Doctor degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1984 and has been a business leader in banking, insurance, marketing and real estate.
McAuliffe is married to the former Dorothy Swann, with whom he has five children.
With a bravado characteristic of his tenure as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe has taken the fight over the missing Sandy Berger documents to the Bush administration.
Citing the "questionable timing" of the publication of stories alleging Berger, a former Clinton national security adviser, had taken copies of sensitive, secret documents with him when permitted to review them prior to testifying before the Sept. 11 Commission, McAuliffe filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the federal government asking for copies of any correspondence between the White House and the Department of Justice regarding the investigation of Berger, which sources involved say has been going on for at least nine months.
It's the kind of bold response for which McAuliffe has become known since being elected chairman in February 2001.
"Terry McAuliffe," said Donna Brazile, manager of Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid, "has put the happy face back on the Democratic Party."
"He's exuberant, optimistic," she said. "People call John Edwards optimistic -- he's got nothing on Terry."
The cheerfulness and optimism he brings to the jobs is a major benefit, said Democratic consultant Peter Fenn, because "it is one of the toughest jobs in America."
"There's always someone complaining about what you're doing or not doing," Fenn says. "And there are 535 members of Congress who think they are the world's greatest experts on how the party should be run. And they all have different interests" that have to be carefully managed and attended to. "Terry's done a good job," Fenn said, of managing the party's political egos -- which may be the toughest part of the job.
But McAuliffe has also "grown as the party's spokesman," Fenn said, and has become a convincing salesman for the agenda, both to donors and to the voters through his frequent public appearances.
McAuliffe, they said, has every reason to be cheerful. Under his leadership, the party has bounced back from its defeat in the 2000 presidential race -- though there are Democrats who still maintain Gore won -- to become a powerful force in this year's election, one that threatens to deny a second president named Bush a chance for a second term.
One reason, say some Democrats, is McAuliffe's emphasis on rebuilding the party's grass-roots capability, something some people thought was a challenge beyond his abilities when he took the party's reins and could only come, first off, if the party remained unified, something on which the Democratic Leadership Council's Al From said McAuliffe has "done a great job."
From, who founded the DLC with the intention of moderating the liberalism that had cost the Democrats presidential election after presidential election, embraces McAuliffe as the kind of "Clinton new Democrat" that has made the party viable on a national basis.
"What happened in the 1990s is that as Democrats we redefined the party," From said. "We've become a party of growth and opportunity, and Terry has been the right leader while the party has been in transition."
"He was able to build its infrastructure while the transformation in the party's ideology took place," From said. "He kept the different groups supporting the party as we modernized the party's message."
McAuliffe, who was a well-known confidant of both former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., when he became chairman, had established a reputation as a rainmaker of the first order. In one case, as Vanity Fair once reported, he got the last $5,000 of a $25,000 pledge from a major contributor by showing up on the man's lawn before sunrise.
In another instance, his official party biography notes, McAuliffe "wrestled an alligator on a dare from a fundraising prospect" while working for the 1980 Carter-Mondale re-election campaign, a match McAuliffe presumably won.
By training a lawyer and by practice an entrepreneur, McAuliffe has held many of the top finance jobs in the Democratic Party -- also serving as the finance chairman of former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's 1988 presidential campaign -- on his way to its top leadership post.
The experience served him well as he managed to make a political party known for chronic indebtedness into a debt-free organization while moving on plans to build a technologically 21st-century party headquarters facility -- now up and running -- that, thanks to his efforts, was fully paid for before the ground was broken.
The Clinton connection started out as a double-edged sword, even though it helped McAuliffe gain a post he likely never expected to seek, having told the group OpenSecrets.org before he became chairman that the 2000 election would be his last.
After that, he said, "If I can help a candidate here or there or make a couple of phone calls, I will. I've done it for 21 years, it's been a great experience, but there are a lot of other things I'd like to focus my energy on, so the fundraising I do will be for charitable causes."
But any grumbling that may have existed about the Clinton connection, Fenn said, quickly dissipated. "There was some sniping at the beginning that he was going to be a Clinton person inside the DNC, but he has turned out to be a true national chairman."
"Everybody thought that raising money was his forte," Focus Consulting's Chris Lapetina, a well-regarded Democrat strategist, said of McAuliffe. "But he proved he can do a lot more than just raise campaign funds."
"He's done a first-rate job getting the Democrats to this point" in the election cycle, Brazile said. "The party is in the best possible position it could be -- better than in 1992, 1996 or 2000 -- at this point in the campaign, and not just in financial terms."
Part of that success comes from McAuliffe's willingness to take risks, particularly in the run-up to the 2004 presidential race.
Much was made of McAuliffe's decision to compress the party's schedule of 2004 primaries and caucuses in a way that might produce a nominee well in advance of the convention. "A lot of folks," Lapetina said, "thought that would be problematic for the party's eventual nominee."
"It was a bold stroke and -- so far at least -- a smart one," Lapetina said, since it allowed the party and the presidential campaign more time to reach voters, to hone its message and to wage the fall campaign starting at the moment the candidate, in this case Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., collected enough delegates to be assured of nomination on the first ballot.
McAuliffe has other accomplishments to which Democrats point as marks of his success as the party's leader.
After 2000's long recount in Florida, McAuliffe set up the Voting Rights Institute within the national committee to focus on the problems of voter disenfranchisement and ballot irregularities. He mounted the party's strongest effort to date to assist in the decennial redistricting that followed the 2000 census and broke new ground in the DNC's efforts at outreach to women, blacks and Latinos.
But his most enduring contribution, Democrats say, may be in the way he made the party a technologically up-to-date political force, an accomplishment that Lapetina said "made people who had some doubts about him look at him in a new way."
McAuliffe developed and spearheaded the party's Project 5104, a plan to meld technological innovations with traditional tactics for mobilizing voters, raising money and delivering the message, an effort some say is "spot on."
"Terry's effort to bring new technology to the political forum have been spot on," Lapetina said. "Democrats who understand the importance of having state-of-the-art campaign abilities have been really impressed with what the DNC has been able to do in a short period of time. There is a feeling among most of the party professionals that we are on par with the Republicans in the battleground states as far as technology goes."
Fenn seconded that view, noting that party consultants and operatives "had complained for years that the Democrats were behind the Republicans in terms of technology."
"Now," he said, "in terms of fundraising lists and voter identification and the other critical elements of making a campaign work, we are almost at parity with the Republicans."
On the eve of the Boston convention, McAuliffe is confident that the party he leads is a new animal.
"We are a new party today," he said. "I like to tell people we are no longer your grandfather's party."
To him, the party is in the best shape it has ever been. "We are more organized, better coordinated and in the best financial shape we have ever been in," he said, pointing proudly to the fact the DNC has $60 million in the bank and no debt.
But he is prouder still of the changes in the technology he instituted for a party that, when he became chairman, did not have a national voter file and had to rely, he said, on 50 state voter files that were riddled with errors and badly out of date.
"Today," McAuliffe said, "there is one centralized voter file with 175 million names that is constantly updated. Every state party is armed with the most up-to-date information available.
"We are no longer losing voters," because of inaccurate records, he said. "Now, we can reach out to every single registered voter in the United States -- Democrat, Republican or independent," a feat the party was able to accomplish because he came to the job with an idea that everything the party did was on the table, and if the staff had a new idea they wanted to try, that he would find a way to pay for it.
The way to judge a national chairman, many analysts say, is to look at the job they did getting ready for the next national election. "John Kerry inherits a Democratic Party," Brazile said, "that's back to its fighting weight -- thanks to all the work that Terry McAuliffe has done."
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