McAuliffe Fundraising

FILE- This Jan. 10, 2018, file photo shows former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe as he addresses a joint session of the the 2018 session in the House chambers at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. The former governor has used his old state political action committee to raise big money and cut checks to Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire as he weighs a presidential run.

Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, long wrestling with whether to run for the White House, has finally hit upon a perfect meme - one that evokes the literal swamp creature he once battled for campaign cash.

"Of all the candidates running, how many have actually wrestled a 280 pound, 8-foot alligator for a political contribution?" the Democrat said to union leaders Wednesday. "I'm your man, folks. . . . If I can wrestle an alligator, I can certainly wrestle Donald Trump!"

He followed up Thursday on Twitter with side-by-side photos. On the left: a svelte, early 20s McAuliffe perched atop the imposing reptile he fought on behalf of President Jimmy Carter's 1980 reelection bid. On the right: President Donald Trump in golf attire.

"If I could wrestle an 8 ft, 280 lb . . . I certainly would have no problem with you know who," McAuliffe wrote.

For the record, McAuliffe bested the gator, wrangling a $15,000 donation to Carter from Florida's Seminole Indian tribe. But that was not enough to help Carter, who lost the race.

McAuliffe, 62, has spent a lifetime in politics, most notably as a record-breaking and colorful fundraiser for two of his closest friends: Bill and Hillary Clinton. He referenced the alligator episode in the title of his 2007 autobiography, "What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals."

McAuliffe morphed into a more serious creature as Virginia's 72nd governor, a post he held from January 2014 to January 2018. (Virginia is the only state that bars governors from serving back-to-back terms.)

For those four years, as he followed in the footsteps of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, over-the-top stunts were out. Sure, McAuliffe was exuberant. His motto remained: "Sleep when you're dead." And yes, he installed a kegerator in the Executive Mansion. But the only animals around were the family dogs and mansion chickens. And he was not taunting Trump on Twitter.

He has been considering a run for president since leaving the governorship - his first elective office - and a self-imposed March 31 deadline for a decision has come and gone.

In recent weeks, friends and confidants have said McAuliffe was waiting to see whether former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, would run. Biden, a friend of 40 years, would likely occupy the same center-left, establishment lane - something that could deter McAuliffe. But as Biden has let his own decision-making process drag on, McAuliffe's desire to run has only grown, said one confidant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the former governor's private deliberations.

"People feel he has the successful record to run on," the confidant said. "Perhaps more important, people feel he has the personality to take on Trump."

McAuliffe spokeswoman Crystal Carson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, as McAuliffe's tweet drew national attention.

After MSNBC's "Morning Joe" aired the clip of McAuliffe's Wednesday remarks, host Mika Brzezinski said McAuliffe offered something the rest of the 2020 herd was lacking.

"See, this is what we need," she said. "That was fun."

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The Washington Post's David Weigel contributed to this report.

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