By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009
RICHMOND -- Despite winning the governor's race by a 17-percentage point blowout, Virginia Republicans insisted Wednesday that they had gained no broad mandate and would make their top priority the pragmatic platform that drove voters to the polls.
The state's Republicans have recaptured the governor's office after eight years out of power. But Gov.-elect Robert F. McDonnell made no mention Wednesday of issues that drive the party's social conservatives, such as abortion and gun rights. He said during a packed news conference at the State Capitol that his focus would be to create jobs, keep taxes low and repair the state's tattered budget.
"I just want to let everybody in Virginia know that I intend to govern the same way I campaigned," he said. "I tried to tell people in a detailed way what we intend to do, and now that it's time to govern, I want to go about the business of getting results and accomplishing those goals."
McDonnell is likely to face competing pressures, in Virginia and elsewhere, from the party's social conservative base and moderates who fear alienating independents. Those voters backed Barack Obama last year but supported McDonnell and other Republicans on Tuesday. The party swept the state's top three statewide offices and added six seats to its majority in the House of Delegates.
"Remember for years commentators were saying Republicans have to stop thinking they can win statewide elections on so-called divisive social issues, and they ought to be more kitchen table-oriented like the Democrats? Well, we almost switched places this time, didn't we?" said Frank Donatelli, chairman of GOPAC, a group that helps elect Republicans nationwide and sent money and resources to Virginia Republicans this year.
McDonnell and the other Republicans played down ideological issues Wednesday. When asked, House Republicans did say they will move to make Planned Parenthood ineligible for state funding and expand the death penalty.
The governor-elect and other Republicans said they will move quickly to pass bills that will offer tax credits to new businesses, make it easier to open charter schools, authorize oil and gas drilling off the coast and privatize the state's liquor stores -- proposals Democrats have opposed in the past.
McDonnell will also have the power to fulfill promises to immediately reopen the state's rest stops, which were closed by Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine over GOP opposition, and conduct a long-sought efficiency audit of the massive Department of Transportation.
After winning by a landslide at a time when voter identification with the GOP has plummeted nationally, McDonnell found himself the center of attention Wednesday. He laughed off questions about a vice presidential run, even as he fielded calls from Obama, national Republican leaders and TV networks clamoring for interviews.
In contrast to McDonnell's post-victory approach, the last two Republican governors, James S. Gilmore III and George Allen, had a confrontational style soon after they were elected. Allen promised at his 1994 inauguration to knock Democrats' "soft teeth down their whiny throats," and Gilmore declared Virginia "free at last" in 1999, when Republicans took over the General Assembly on his watch.
In comments this week, Allen sounded more like McDonnell.
"We need to keep the promises that we have made and not just keep playing tenacious defense against bad ideas but also promote positive, constructive ideas on the economy, on energy and on fiscal sanity," Allen said.
Former Republican U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich said the Virginia GOP could provide a model for Republicans who want to defeat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her Democratic colleagues in next year's midterm elections and Obama two years later. "Bob McDonnell might be the archetype of the campaign for 2010 and 2012," Gingrich said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said McDonnell developed a "winning formula" during his campaign, one that will be duplicated by the GOP for the 2010 midterm elections and beyond.
Despite their gains Tuesday, Virginia Republicans still face limits on their power, including the Democrat-controlled state Senate. Democrats hold a one-seat advantage there, and Republicans are talking about whether McDonnell would follow in Gilmore's footsteps and lure a couple of Democrats in GOP-leaning districts into his administration, paving the way to switch control of the chamber. McDonnell sidestepped questions about that possibility Wednesday.
McDonnell announced a five-member transition team that includes Tom Farrell, a high school classmate who is president of Dominion Resources, and Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council -- a clear sign that he plans to continue his message of creating jobs and luring businesses to the state.
McDonnell's staff immediately moved into a state-funded transition office: half a floor in an office off Capitol Square in downtown Richmond. Campaign manager Phil Cox will serve as his transition director.