RICHMOND, Va. — The first Republican to break the stranglehold Democrats held on Virginia’s executive mansion since Reconstruction is supporting the Democrat in this fall’s race for governor.
Former Gov. Linwood Holton’s endorsement of Terry McAuliffe is hardly a surprise. After all, Holton’s own son-in-law, former Gov. Tim Kaine, and McAuliffe both served as Democratic National Committee chairmen.
Holton, the first governor to place an African-American in a cabinet post when he served from 1970 to 1974, has been alienated by his party’s rightward shift, and Virginia Republicans long ago wrote him off as a RINO, or “Republican in name only.”
Virginia’s GOP has changed profoundly since Holton’s term, and the 89-year-old Holton has supported other Democrats in recent years besides Kaine.
In announcing the endorsement, Holton called for “a singular focus” on economic issues, “not an ideological agenda that divides people.”
Holton was elected Virginia’s governor in 1969, one year after Richard Nixon carried Virginia and won his first term in the White House. Barred by Virginia’s constitution from seeking a second consecutive term, Holton left office in 1974 for a brief stint as an assistant secretary of state in Nixon’s scandal-shortened second term.
Holton’s successor as governor, Mills Godwin, also preceded him, governing as a Democrat before sitting out a term, switching parties, then winning a second term as a Republican. Godwin’s 1973 victory is the last time Virginians elected a governor of the same political party as the incumbent president.
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