AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. - Terry McAuliffe eased into the governor's race Wednesday by branding himself as a pro-business pragmatist and his Republican foe as an apostle of "socially divisive issues," after a potential rival for the Democratic nomination decided not to run.
Former Rep. Tom Perriello, a one-term Democratic congressman from Charlottesville and a favorite of his party's progressives, announced after days of huddling with advisers that his heart wasn't fully into a statewide election.
He announced his decision to stay out of the race first on the Democratic- leaning blog Blue Virginia.
"Asking someone to vote for you is a sacred act, so I wanted to go in ready for the task at hand," Perriello said in an interview with The Associated Press.
McAuliffe lost a three-way nomination battle for governor in 2009 to Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds, whom Republican Bob McDonnell later trounced. McAuliffe announced his encore gubernatorial run last month three days after the presidential election.
With the Democratic field now cleared, November's race appears set. Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's chief rival, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, dropped out of the race last week, acknowledging he had no hope of winning a statewide GOP nominating convention dominated by pro-Cuccinelli conservatives.
That leaves political novice Tareq Salahi, best known for crashing a 2009 White House dinner with his wife at the time, Michaele, as Cuccinelli's only opponent.
Compared to the big-money, stage-lighted, circus-atmosphere campaign kickoff four years ago, McAuliffe's tour of fledgling high-tech and professional businesses sharing space in a trendy, repurposed 1920s red-brick warehouse was subdued.
"I did run before. It was a great experience. You know, you don't win at every business, you don't win at every election," he said. "People will definitely know me. I'm pretty consistent."
He spoke with principals of small Internet, architectural and technology firms in South Richmond's tony Corrugated Box Building, inquiring about their business models and repeatedly jotting names and notes into a palm-sized pad. Businesses in the building lack walls for the most part: each a cluster of cubicles, sometimes separated curtains, sometimes by nothing more than a 15- to 20-foot expanse of sunny floor space.
Wednesday was mostly a photo opportunity for McAuliffe to burnish an image he has cultivated since his 2009 primary whipping as a developer of clean-energy start-ups and claim for his own the job-creation issue that propelled McDonnell to the Executive Mansion.
But he made certain to jab Cuccinelli, who has used his office to challenge federal clean air and health care reforms in court and prevent stringent and daunting new building standards for abortion clinics from being watered down.
"I do think people want a governor who has mainstream ideas," he said. "To me jobs aren't a (partisan) issue. So I'm focused on mainstream ideas, growing and helping the middle class. It's either that or a governor who wants to promote socially divisive issues."
Cuccinelli spokesman Noah Wall shot back, calling McAuliffe "a millionaire, professional Washington, D.C., insider who doesn't know the first thing about the middle class, or the issues and concerns facing Virginians."
McAuliffe's approach imitates the 2001 model forged by Mark Warner, a wealthy venture capitalist who seeded Virginia's countryside with start-ups and was elected governor as a moderate, pro-business Democrat. But McAuliffe's most conspicuous investment venture was not in Virginia, but in Mississippi, where he and that state's Republican former governor, Haley Barbour, landed a clean-energy vehicle business.
Asked why he didn't choose Virginia to manufacture GreenTech Automotive's electric, low-speed two-seater, he said the McDonnell administration apparently wasn't interested because the Virginia Economic Development Partnership chose not to bid on it.
"We wanted to, but of course it was their decision. Our headquarters are here," McAuliffe said. The plant will be in Horn Lake, a Mississippi suburb of Memphis, Tenn. "They decided they didn't want to bid on it. That's their choice. Other states _ I think Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi _ have a very aggressive (effort) to bring manufacturing in. Virginia was my first choice."
"I have to go where, obviously, they're going to put incentives," he said.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)