Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has an approval rating of more than 60 percent and has been elevated to chairman of the Republican Governors Association now that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has entered the presidential race. The Post reports:
McDonnell, elected in landslide in 2009, has said that he’d be willing to serve as vice president if asked, though he said he is not seeking the job and has every intention of filling out his term as governor, which ends January 2013. . . . He easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), by running as a pragmatic leader who could work across party lines to solve the state’s economic problems.
A Washington Post poll in May showed 62 percent of Virginians approve of the way McDonnell was handling his job, while 26 percent disapproved. Those numbers make him one of the most popular governors in America.
He appears regularly . . .on network television, particularly following last year’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
McDonnell will use the RGA post to meet more national donors, appear more often on Sunday morning talk shows and be part of the national political dialogue — something he often talks often wanting to do.
I asked his communications director, Tucker Martin, if McDonnell would make an endorsement in the presidential race. Martin answered that “all he has said is he will not endorse prior to the November 2011 midterm legislative elections here in Virginia. After that point he might, but his focus for now is on increasing the GOP majority in the Virginia House and winning the Virginia Senate.” If he achieves that goal, it would be only the second time since Reconstruction that Republicans controlled the governorship and both houses in the state legislature.
As far as the top candidates go, McDonnell is on good terms with both Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He worked closely with Perry during the last year while Perry was the RGA chairman and McDonnell was vice chairman. They continue to talk frequently. Likewise, Romney campaigned for McDonnell in 2009. Martin told me that “they stay in touch as well. They just spoke again on Monday in fact.”
McDonnell and his staff have repeated many times that he has no regrets about not running for president. McDonnell jests from time to time that it doesn’t get much better than having the same job once held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
His best calling card for a VP selection may be his own landslide victory in 2009. The key to McDonnell’s win in 2009 will likely be the same to winning in the presidential election: making an effective case on bread-and-butter issues to suburban voters.
McDonnell has been meeting with his financial advisers regularly to try to gauge the potential impact of federal budget cuts on his state. He plans to announce soon what his staff calls “proactive” steps Virginia could take to cushion the blow. Martin told me, “The governor believes that we must get serious about reforming the entitlement programs that are huge drivers of federal spending, and he would caution against any excessive cuts to national defense, which is a core responsibility of the federal government. All that being said, he isn’t going to tie the hands of anyone involved in the discussion about how to best reduce federal spending.” In other words, he wants it to be known that he’s a team player.
McDonnell’s success in campaigning and governing in a critical state puts him on the VP short list for virtually any presidential nominee. If Republicans can’t get McDonnell at the top of the ticket, they might do well to think about who among the contenders could do what McDonnell has done — win big in the suburbs, rally social conservatives without turning off independents, explain conservative policies in nonpartisan terms and display a calm, professional demeanor. Is there such a figure? Republicans better hope there is.