Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday endorsed former Gov. Terry McAuliffe to replace him in the 2021 gubernatorial election despite the fact McAuliffe once called on him to resign amid his 2019 blackface scandal.
In Virginia, governors may not serve consecutive terms, but may run for office again after leaving. Northam, therefore, cannot run for reelection. But McAuliffe, who was Virginia's governor from 2014 to 2018, is allowed to seek a non-consecutive second term this year.
"Terry’s strong record of delivering for Virginians is exactly why we need him as our next governor," Northam said in a statement first reported by the Associated Press. "We will need bold leadership ready to build a more equitable post-COVID economy that creates jobs, invests in workers, ensures equitable access to quality affordable health care, and rebuilds Virginia’s thriving network of small businesses."
"Governor Northam has been leading Virginia through this crisis so he knows exactly what it's going to take to rebuild from the pandemic: bold plans and tested leadership. I am honored to have his support," McAuliffe responded in a tweet.
But just over two years ago, McAuliffe was instead calling on Northam to resign after a photo surfaced on Northam's medical school yearbook page showing a man in blackface and another apparently wearing Ku Klux Klan robes.
"This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time," McAuliffe tweeted in February 2019.
He added: "The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It's time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward."
Indeed, a massive number of national and Virginia political leaders called on Northam to step down as well, including President Biden, who hadn't yet announced his presidential campaign; Vice President Harris, who'd just began her run for president; and Virginia Democratic Party Chair Susan Swecker.
Northam, however, steadfastly refused to step down.
After initially admitting to being in the racially insensitive yearbook photo, Northam reversed and denied that the photo was of him. A review could not conclusively prove whether Northam was in the photo or not.
"I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook," Northam said in a May 2019 statement. "That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry. I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion."
The scandal eventually died down and Virginia Democrats rallied around Northam as they took control of the legislature in late 2019 and pushed an ambitious gun-control agenda in 2020.
Some of the GOP candidates running for Virginia governor slammed McAuliffe over the fact he accepted Northam's endorsement.
"The fix is in, Virginia Democrats. You knew it was going to happen," GOP candidate Pete Snyder said. "Terry McAuliffe getting the endorsement of failed Governor Ralph Northam, the very man that Terry McAuliffe said was a racist, said that he supported infanticide policies, and said that he should be removed from office."
"Two years ago, McAuliffe called Northam's actions 'racist, unacceptable and inexcusable' and called on him to step down. Today, he gratefully accepted his endorsement," Kirk Cox, a state delegate, said in a statement. "Meanwhile, yesterday, McAuliffe sent out a fundraising email calling me racist for advocating for election integrity and removing partisanship from our state board of elections."
"Virginians deserve better than a third term of the failed McAuliffe-Northam administration," added GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter. "Glenn Youngkin is running for governor because these ineffective career politicians are not getting the job done. Glenn will serve all Virginians, deliver real results, and make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family."
Among the other Democrats running for governor in Virginia are Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax – who is facing unresolved sexual assault allegations, which he denies – former state Del. Jenniffer Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan.
The Democratic primary in Virginia is on June 8, ahead of the Nov. 2 general election. Republicans will hold a convention on May 8 to decide who their gubernatorial nominee will be.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.