Fighting for Principles

Tufts Now All Stories

Terry McAuliffe’s political career began with a wrestling match with an alligator.It was 1980, he was twenty-three years old, and had turned down a full ride scholarship to law school to fundraise for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, said McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor, at a Tisch College Distinguished Speaker series talk on October 9.
The chief of the Seminole Tribe said he’d give $15,000 to the Carter campaign if McAuliffe would publicly wrestle an alligator—but said it would be drugged and toothless. Then the TV networks started showing up, along with Time and Newsweek, and the chief changed his mind. McAuliffe had to “do it the real way,” he said.
Which was how McAuliffe found himself watching four people lift an eight-and-a-half-foot alligator with a burlap sack over its head and a rope tied around its mouth out of a pickup truck. The alligator’s name was Jumper, and it wasn’t sedated and had all eighty teeth intact.
“You get up behind him and put your knees behind his two front legs so he can’t move back. His tail is more dangerous than his mouth—it can snap your vertebrae in half,” McAuliffe said. “You grab his mouth, and they cut the rope. And you’ve got to stay on for three minutes.”
Three minutes later, McAuliffe accepted a $15,000 check on behalf of Jimmy Carter. In the intervening thirty-eight years since then, McAuliffe has gone on to chair the Democratic National Committee, the 2000 Democratic National Convention, President Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign—and serve as governor of Virginia. His philosophy, he said, can be summed up in a description of his first unsuccessful run for governor in 2009: “We had a shot, we got crushed, we got back up, and did it again,” McAuliffe said.
Today McAuliffe is traveling the country …

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