Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday night he is not running for president in 2020 and will instead focus his energy on turning the Virginia House and Senate blue in November.

In a primetime interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, McAuliffe said that after months of deliberation, he decided he could “have the most impact” in his home state.

“I could be getting in a field of 20 today. Tomorrow I can make a real difference in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “I’m going home. I’m gonna work for the next six months, every single day to turn the House and Senate.”

McAuliffe repeatedly declined to answer whether he was considering another run for governor of Virginia. But, he said that in private conversations, Democratic leaders in the state were urging him to get involved.

“I think I could have really made a difference, I know I could beat [Donald Trump] … but we’ve got issues in Virginia,” McAuliffe said. McAuliffe didn’t directly reference the scandals that have plagued the state’s top Democratic officials, including Gov. Ralph Northam, who has resisted calls for his resignation after the surfacing of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.

McAuliffe, who was Virginia's governor from 2014 to 2018, had signaled hopes to occupy a centrist lane in the Democratic nominating contest that features nearly 20 contenders.

But McAuliffe has failed to gain traction in polls, despite months of national television appearances in which he has characterized himself as a practical, business-friendly Democrat, touting Virginia's unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and his role in luring Amazon's eastern headquarters to the state.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading Democratic contenders in the polls and might fill the party's center lane, has yet to announce a run.

McAuliffe has pushed back at some proposals on health care and free college education from the party's left flank, saying Democrats must be "realistic" with voters in order to defeat President Donald Trump.

Over the last few weeks, McAuliffe had also teased a run for the Oval Office by casting himself as a tough figure who could take on President Donald Trump.

“Of all the candidates running, how many have actually wrestled a 280-pound, 8-foot alligator for a political contribution for $15,000?” McAuliffe said last week in a speech at the North America’s Building Trades Unions conference. “If I can wrestle and alligator, I can sure as hell wrestle Donald Trump.”

McAuliffe, a 62-year-old white man in his 60s, would have joined a crowded Democratic field that includes prominent female candidates, a millennial who could become the first gay president of the United States and many people of color — a reality McAuliffe acknowledged as a potential disadvantage should he campaign.

“There may not be oxygen,” McAuliffe said in an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks earlier this month. “We may be in a place that, you know, people talk about identity politics all the time, person of color or women, we don’t know. But you don’t know unless you give it a try.”

McAuliffe would have anchored his campaign on the results of his tenure as Virginia’s top elected official from 2014 to 2018. At the end of his administration, McAuliffe touted 5.9 percent growth in state revenues, a $270 million deal to extend tolled express lanes on Interstate 95 by 10 miles without costing any taxpayer money, and a $45.2 million investment in a major manufacturing business expansion in Prince George County.

While he dodged the types of scandals that befell his predecessor, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, and his successor, Gov. Ralph Northam, business missteps brought controversy.

He had to answer for the state’s decision to give $1.4 million to a Chinese company that promised to open a factory near Lynchburg and never delivered. He has also faced scrutiny for the collapse of GreenTech Automotive, an electric-car company he founded with the help of Chinese investors that failed to deliver on its promises to bring hundreds of jobs to Mississippi.

McAuliffe is finishing a book about the fatal 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, which he strongly condemned.

“If I don’t do it, I’m going to figure something out,” McAuliffe told Fredericks, referring to running for president. “Get out of bed the next day, fight like a dog and have a great time doing it.”

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pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

Politics Editor Andrew Cain contributed to this report.

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