If successful, Republicans will win complete control of the General Assembly — marking only the second time since the Civil War their party has simultaneously held the governor’s mansion, House and Senate in Virginia.
“If we win, they’ll say that’s another feather in his cap because he was able to win back the legislature,’’ McDonnell said in an interview in his office on Capitol Square. “Would it be nice to say we did it? Yeah, but you know what I care about more than that we did it — is what we do afterward, how can we govern better and get bigger things done.”
McDonnell has worked across the aisle during his first 21 months in office, largely on kitchen-table issues, including transportation and higher education. But he is frustrated that the Democratic-controlled Senate killed his proposals to expand the number of charter schools, reform the retirement system and divert existing money to ease traffic congestion.
A Republican victory would help McDonnell get his priorities passed, but it also could lead to a politically sensitive environment for a governor mostly regarded as a moderate who often works with both parties. The growing and more influential conservative wing of his party would want him to take on hot-button issues, such as gun rights, immigration and abortion, that he has largely avoided.
“If you have every part of state government go to one party, then those moderate voices on the Democratic side, or even on the Republican side, are gonna get drowned out,’’ said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who as governor persuaded a Republican legislature to approve higher taxes to pay for investments in education, public safety and health care. “I think what’s at stake here is more than just Democrats and Republicans. Is there gonna be a moderately responsible voice in Virginia government?”
Warner and another former governor — Timothy M. Kaine, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012 — are leading Democrats on a four-day sprint this weekend to encourage voters to keep the last bastion of Democratic power in Richmond.
McDonnell and fellow Republicans — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II — are appearing at 14 events in three days in every region of the state as part of their last sales pitch to voters.
Virginia Democrats won a steady stream of elections, taking control of the state Senate in 2007 and, the next year, helping Barack Obama become their party’s first presidential candidate to win the state in more than four decades. Kaine, who as governor oversaw both those elections, declared “Old Virginny is dead” after the state turned its bluest in years in 2008.