In Iowa, McAuliffe says he's not ruling out 2020 campaign

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in Iowa Tuesday he's not ruling out a 2020 Democratic campaign for president, as he took his national campaign to promote Democratic candidates for governor to the early presidential testing ground.

And while he said a decision remains months away, the former Democratic National Committee chairman touted his term as governor as a model for his party nationally.

"We took a red state and made it a blue state," McAuliffe said in an Associated Press interview during a day of meetings with Democratic Party officials and activists in Des Moines.

McAuliffe was adamant that his chief purpose for visiting Iowa was to promote candidates running in the November midterm elections, chiefly Democratic nominee for governor Fred Hubbell. The governorship is among roughly 10 in states now occupied by Republicans that McAuliffe said are within reach of Democrats. Democrats occupy only 16 governorships.

Iowa is among 19 states McAuliffe has visited since leaving office this year, though none come with the same potential implications as Iowa, host of the leadoff 2020 presidential caucuses.

McAuliffe is viewed as a moderate prospect in an emerging field that could include progressives such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

During the interview, he promoted civil rights policy such as his executive order to restore voting rights for felons, a move that reinstated roughly 173,000 -- disproportionately African Americans -- voters to the rolls in Virginia. Likewise, he cast himself as a fiscal steward, taking office with a budget deficit and leaving with a surplus.

Though Democrat Barack Obama carried Virginia twice as a candidate for president, it has been an emerging swing state over the past decade. Last year, Democrats achieved sweeping gains in legislative elections, a feather for McAuliffe as he tests his profile nationally.

"Clearly Terry's looking hard at it," said veteran Democratic strategist Jim Margolis, a top adviser to Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. "If he decided to, he could credibly make a run."

McAuliffe also has influential friends in Iowa. He is in touch with Des Moines lawyer Jerry Crawford, a veteran operative and past campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.

McAuliffe said he also plans to campaign for Democrats this fall in New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, and this month held a fundraiser in Washington for Rep. James Smith, the Democratic nominee for South Carolina governor. South Carolina hosts the first Southern primary in 2020.

"I don't rule anything out," McAuliffe said, though insisting his focus would remain on 2018 until after the election. "Then you have to make some decisions through the end of the year and into the first quarter of next year."