Terry McAuliffe Faces Uphill Climb With GOP-Controlled House of Delegates

A long and contentious campaign ended late Tuesday with a narrow victory by Terry McAuliffe. But as Wednesday dawned, many Virginians may still not know what to expect from the next governor, since negative ads during the campaign seemed to crowd out both candidates' platforms.

McAuliffe likely has some challenges ahead. He's never held public office, and many Virginia lawmakers perceive him as an outsider. What's more, Republicans maintained their strong majority in Virginia's House of Delegates, which means McAuliffe will have to figure out how to cooperate with the GOP if he has any hope of success.

We talked to three experts -- Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia; Domenico Montanaro, NBC News deputy political editor; and Dr. Toni-Michelle Travis, professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University -- about what we can expect from the governor-elect.

GOP-Controlled House Likely to Be Biggest Challenge for McAuliffe

Getting work done on the issues McAuliffe campaigned on -- among them, job growth, an expansion of Medicaid, and transportation improvements -- may not prove to be so easy.

Republicans maintained a solid majority in Virginia's House of Delegates Tuesday, and McAuliffe is going to have to govern in a bipartisan way if he wants to get any legislation passed, Montanaro said.

"He's been promising that as a candidate,” Montanaro said. “We'll see if that actually comes to fruition as governor."

Even if McAuliffe extends an olive branch, there's no guarantee the Republicans will accept it. If they work with McAuliffe, they could risk letting the Democratic governor be seen in a positive light.

"I think it's going to be a very tough four years," Sabato said. "The Republicans cooperated with [Mark] Warner when he was governor and they created a monster, from their perspective. Now he's safe in a Senate seat. This is going to much more like Tim Kaine's term. They just didn't want to give him successes he could brag about."

McAuliffe's Outsider Nature Could Make for a "Rocky Start"

Virginia legislators don't take kindly to those perceived as outsiders, and McAuliffe, who's never served in the General Assembly, likely qualifies.

"I think he may have a very rocky start," Travis said. "So he's got to, as he said, meet everyone individually, and gain their trust. It doesn't matter how long he's lived here; he's never served in the General Assembly or any office in Virginia,and that counts with other elected officials."

Montanaro agreed. "The challenge for McAuliffe is that he's never held elected office before," he said. "We don't know what kind of real governance he's going to show. Bill Clinton has said that the best way to tell how someone will govern is by how they campaign. So he's run on a jobs message, bipartisanship and good governance, which is a tried-and-true Virginia message. We'll see if he can deliver."

What About Taxes?

McAuliffe has said he wants to simplify local tax systems and find ways to reduce taxes hindering the growth of small businesses, although Travis finds it hard to believe he would be able to do this without raising taxes in other areas.

"He needs a really good person to readjust the tax system in Virginia so he doesn't raise taxes, or if he does, then very, very little," she said. "But we still have one of the lowest taxes on gasoline. Tobacco and gasoline would be areas he could go to if he were going to increase taxes…. There'd be some [pushback on tobacco] but there's so much health documentation on that now. And we're low on tobacco [taxes], one of the lowest in country."

Gun Control Likely "DOA"

Without support in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates, don't expect any movement on gun control.

"There has been a lot of talk on guns," Sabato said, but any limits on gun rights are "DOA. Dead on arrival. It reminds me of the situation in Washington. What President Obama ran on in 2012, a lot of that never happened. The same thing could happen with Gov. McAuliffe."

So What Can He Do?

"You can talk about anything in a campaign, and the voters will respond, but the governor doesn't have the power to put them into effect in most cases," Sabato said.

But McAuliffe will still wield executive powers and will be able to issue executive orders. "So he can for example, forbid discrimination against gays," Sabato said.

McAuliffe could also go after Virginia's new abortion regulations, which require clinics performing abortions to meet the same building standards as new hospitals.

"He gets to appoint the board that would oversee this," Sabato said. “He's got the veto power, and the state senate has enough power to override his vetoes, so he does have the power to stop things from happening."

Job growth is another issue McAuliffe could try to tackle.

"A governor can tour the world trying to lure jobs to Virginia," Sabato noted. "He has said he is going to do that, and he can do that on his own."

McAuliffe will likely court whatever industries he can, but Sabato said the distribution of new work across the state is likely to settle as follows: "I think the level of education matters, so the tech jobs would go to Northern Virginia, and the rest of Virginia… it would be factory jobs."

Travis sees a tie-in with community colleges.

"I think with that [his planned] tour of every community college, I think he's going to try to use that in some way to promote jobs, producing people with certain skills to entice an employer to come to Virginia," she said.

Advice for McAuliffe?

As a newcomer to Virginia politics, the governor-elect would be wise to surround himself with the right people.

"McAuliffe has to pick a seasoned staff," said Travis. "I think so because he's got two Democratic senators who can recommend people, so I think he's going to find some very good people."

Montanaro thinks it's all about being bipartisan.

"If he wants to get anything done, he's going to have to work with Republicans," he said. "If not, it will be a stalemate."

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