They might be the best buddy comedy team in American politics.
Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Terry McAuliffe have been competing against each other for years. In 2000, when Gillespie was part of a team putting on the Republican National Convention, McAuliffe was organizing the Democratic gathering.
Both ascended to the chairmanships of their national parties in 2004, moving from behind the scenes of national politics to become happy on-stage sparring partners, appearing frequently together on television to defend their parties’ honor and talking points.
Now, the long arcs of their political careers are poised to intersect again.
McAuliffe, a prolific Democratic fundraiser who made his mark working for the Clintons, is now the governor of Virginia, a seat he won last year following an unsuccessful bid four years earlier.
Gillespie, a longtime Republican messaging savant and former mega-lobbyist, is making his own debut run for elected office in Virginia, challenging popular Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in the November elections. If Gillespie won, he'd become the top Republican in a state where McAuliffe is top Democrat.
Since Gillespie announced his campaign, McAuliffe stepped up to predict Warner would “crush” Gillespie in the race.
But McAuliffe and Gillespie share a deep, textured personal and professional history that, despite its contentious nature, is marked by mutual respect and admiration.
“They are both good Irish-Americans and think highly of each other’s success,” one McAuliffe ally said.
Both men are also authors. After stepping down as the chairmen of their respective parties, McAuliffe and Gillespie each wrote a memoir detailing professional accomplishments and lessons learned. Each attended the other's book party.
And before they launched their first bids for public office, McAuliffe and Gillespie hit the national speaking circuit — together. On the road, Gillespie was the serious, measured analyst, and McAuliffe the fun-loving comedic relief.
At a conference last spring, with the two men seated adjacent to each other onstage, a moderator asked them to recount their “wildest” moments as the heads of their national parties.
Gillespie invoked “the home stretch of the 2004 election” and his marathon trip through 10 swing states. “I’m not sure it’s the wildest,” he said, “but it’s my most compelling memory.”
The moderator turned to McAuliffe. “Terry, same question. You probably have a wilder memory.”
The audience laughed knowingly, and McAuliffe conceded a sheepish nod. “No question,” he said.