Terry McAuliffe and Wife Dorothy Hope for Return to Va. Governor's Mansion in Tough, High-Stakes Race

The couple speak with PEOPLE from the trail — "It's not about us, it's about helping other people" — before voters cast their ballots in an election with consequences that could extend way beyond Virginia

Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty

With just hours to go in the race for governor of Virginia, the stakes — and the spirits — are high for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and his wife, Dorothy McAuliffe, who crisscrossed the commonwealth over the weekend to campaign ahead of Tuesday's election.

"We've had a great day today," Terry told PEOPLE from the trail on Sunday, in a phone interview with his wife after they attended a Halloween parade in Leesburg with "hundreds and hundreds of little children out there in the greatest costumes I've ever seen."

Then the once-and-possibly-future Virginia governor stops himself with a question. "What did you think of those costumes, Dorothy?"

"It was adorable," she said on the call. "A lot of great energy. It was fun to be out on Halloween night. A lot of great memories of our kids all getting dressed up. It was a really, really beautiful night in Virginia."

The couple, who've been married for 33 years and share five adult children and two dogs, lived in Virginia's Executive Mansion in Richmond from 2014 until 2018, during Terry's first four years as governor of the state, which prohibits consecutive terms for those who serve in its highest office.

"One of our favorite things to do when we were honored to live [there] was to invite Virginians from all walks of life," the former first lady, 58, said. "We love people. We love the work we do. We love listening to the cares and concerns of other Virginians."

Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe
Mike Davidson, Terry Mcauliffe campaign

To return to the governorship, Terry, 64, needs to defeat Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin in a race that is surprisingly close given President Joe Biden's 10-point victory over Donald Trump to claim Virginia in the race for the White House one year ago.

Youngkin, whose campaign hasn't responded to PEOPLE's request for an interview, has been endorsed by Trump. The former president released a statement of support on Monday saying the two "get along very well together and strongly believe in many of the same policies," though Youngkin — hoping to focus the race on other issues, like education and crime — has tried to distance himself from the divisive Trump, who hasn't appeared in person on his behalf.

Meanwhile, looking to reach and excite as many voters as possible, former Gov. McAuliffe has welcomed a slew of high-profile Democrats to the campaign trail, including former President Barack Obama, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who recently summed up the importance of the election as an indicator of how their party — and the Biden administration — will fare in the coming months and into next year's midterm elections.

"What happens in Virginia will determine what happens in 2022, 2024 and so on," Harris said at a McAuliffe campaign event in Norfolk on Friday. "Lives will be forever impacted by what you do in this election."

It may seem like a heavy burden for the Democrat, whose campaign messaging has framed the race as a choice to continue the progress McAuliffe touts from his first term or return to Trump's divisive policies by electing his preferred candidate. (Youngkin makes a very different case for himself.)

"I'm not worried about the pressure," McAuliffe told PEOPLE, adding that he's focused on lifting up the lives of Virginians. "We've got 20 very serious plans — raising teacher pay above the national average, getting the $15 minimum wage by 2024, getting everybody paid sick leave, getting everybody family medical leave. That's what's a stake at this election."

Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe
Jose Luis Magana/AP/Shutterstock

Win or lose, Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe say they've worked as hard as they possibly can during a campaign that has racked up more than 2,500 events in less than a year. "We've left nothing on the playing field," the former governor said, adding that he's doing 10 events a day, seven days a week as Election Day nears.

"People always ask me, 'How do you do it?' I love it. I love being out with people," he said, adding that a man grabbed his arm at the parade earlier in the day to thank him for restoring voting rights to nearly 200,000 former felons during his first term.

"Boy oh boy, that's why you do what you do," he said of such encounters. "That's what keeps you going, gets you energized. If I could do that 24 hours a day, I'd try do it 20. I guess I gotta get a little sleep."

When asked about actual, waking downtime, Terry and Dorothy shared a laugh and indicated that it's been a while since they've had the chance to relax as a family — much less take a vacation. Until the results are in, they're focused on "running through the tape" at the finish line, according to the former first lady.

"We've talked very little about what we're going to do after this race," Dorothy said. "We love to snow ski as a family, that's one thing we love. We love the outdoors, we love water sports, so we love being near the water. What it actually looks like after this, we don't exactly know. But we'll think of something."

For now, politics is a family affair for the McAuliffe clan, which includes Dori, 30, Jack, 28, Mary, 27, Sally, 21, and Peter, 19. "They're all here in one form or another helping on the campaign," Terry said. "We actually have three of the five who are here this weekend."

Democrat Terry McAuliffe (C) prepares to make remarks, claiming victory in Virginia's gubernatorial race as his family applauds (L-R) daughters Mary, Dori, sons Jack and Peter, daughter Sally and wife Dorothy during a celebration, in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, November 5, 2013. McAuliffe defeated former Virginia Attorney General Republican Ken Cuccinelli in a race closely watched by the rest of the country. McAuliffe wins Virginia gubernatorial race over Republican Cuccinelli, Tyson's Corner, United States - 05 Nov 2013
Mike Theiler/UPI/Shutterstock

Without naming any specific issues or advice offered, he said the kids do inform his approach to campaigning and governing.

"We're a big Irish Catholic family so we sit around that kitchen table, and everybody debates the issues," he said. "Having children in college and just out of college and one in high school, you get a broad range of what young people are thinking about in this country and it is very helpful to bring home what they're experiencing every day, talk to us about it, and then let us work with them and formulate how we can make things better for everybody."

Asked whether they have ever had any political disagreements, husband and wife thought long and hard but couldn't recall ever not being on the same page when it comes to an important issue.

"We're both independent thinkers, don't get me wrong," Dorothy said. "I think we push each other on certain issues and in 33 years we've learned how to work it all out."

"Dorothy would be happy if I slept a little more," her husband quipped.

Their children are happy to share their own opinions — but also their parents' sense of duty, said the pair who've been involved with politics for most of the kids' lives.

"One thing we've always tried to instill in our children is service, public service, giving back. All of our children have done that in the military or on other private sector charitable initiatives and so forth," Terry said.

Acknowledging the sacrifices that come with growing up in a political family, the children were told from an early age, "If you're going to do something worth doing, it's not always easy," Dorothy said.

Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe
Mike Davidson, Terry Mcauliffe campaign

"It's not easy for kids to have their parents be out in this focal point the way they are every single day," Terry added. "They understand that Dorothy and I are stepping up to the plate. It's not about us. It's about helping other people and they're so proud of that. And we're so proud of our children."

Looking ahead at a possible second term, the former first lady said life in the Executive Mansion would "be a little different for us this time," because "we're empty-nesters" with youngest Peter going off to college.

"We'll still have our dogs with us, and that'll help," she added of pooches Dolly and Trooper. "Home is where your dog is."

Related Articles