Virginia's delegation to the Republican National Convention in August included top names in the state party.
There was U.S. Sen. George Allen, the former governor who is said to be contemplating a presidential bid in 2008. There was Jerry W. Kilgore, then the state attorney general, who is now running for governor. And there, seated next to them, was Del. Robert F. McDonnell (Virginia Beach), a veteran of the House and chairman of one of its most important committees.
McDonnell, who is seeking his party's nomination to replace Kilgore, spent the whole week at the sides of those leaders, said Loudoun County party chairman J. Randall Minchew, who also was there.
"It was pretty clear that Bob was good friends [with] and had a lot of support from those delegates," he said.
Stephen E. Baril, the Richmond lawyer running against McDonnell in Tuesday's primary, was not a member of the delegation and instead spent the time campaigning in southwestern Virginia.
His absence from the convention, according to his spokesman, David Clementson, "really proves our point. Steve doesn't want to be an insider politician."
Of his status among party leaders, McDonnell said: "People support me because they've worked with me. They've seen my ability to get things done."
McDonnell's supporters said that in his 14 years in the state House, McDonnell has gained a reputation as a go-to guy for complex bills and as an incisive debater who has helped advance the party's agenda as it has gained a majority in Richmond.
McDonnell said his seven terms show leadership ability that would help him effectively navigate the political and legal terrain of the attorney general's office.
His candidacy has garnered strong support from party leaders such as those at the convention.
McDonnell, a former Army officer and prosecutor, came to Richmond in 1992, on the cusp of the Republican dominance in state politics. State Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), who joined the House the same year, said McDonnell was one of the first of the GOP newcomers to engage in sharp floor debates with C. Richard Cranwell (D), the House majority leader, who was known as a brilliant and intimidating presence.
McDonnell "would just lob these verbal grenades. . . . It was the first time we realized we could do this," Mims said. "He was the de facto head of the young Republicans."
McDonnell also is a leader of the antiabortion movement in the legislature, sponsoring legislation that would require a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion and helping to write the 2003 law that banned a controversial late-term abortion procedure. That law was struck down last week.
He said recently that he is against abortion in every case except those in which a woman's life is in danger. Baril has said he believes abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest, as well.
Some centrist members of the party have been backing Baril, fearful that McDonnell's support is too heavily concentrated among social conservatives and could erode when he faces Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), the Democratic candidate, in the Nov. 8 election.
Baril also has criticized McDonnell for what he said has been a politicization of the process of appointing state judges. As chairman of the House's Courts of Justice Committee, McDonnell has played a leading role in several challenges of Gov. Mark R. Warner's choices to fill state judgeships.
In his campaign for attorney general, McDonnell has advocated harsher penalties for repeat drug offenders and offered a 13-point plan to protect the commonwealth against terrorism. He also has suggested lengthening prison sentences for some sex offenders.
McDonnell, a Philadelphia native, spent much of his childhood in Fairfax and graduated from Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria. His father has lived in the same house in Mount Vernon for the past 43 years. McDonnell said such credentials should help with Northern Virginia voters.
"People in Northern Virginia would like to know they've got a candidate who understands a little what it's like there," he said.