There were lots of people last week hitting above their weight, the defining qualification for being a distinguished pol. The hardscrabble anti-Hagel forces have made big strides in surfacing concerns about Chuck Hagel and keeping his confirmation as defense secretary in doubt. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) showed that he is looking to establish himself as a policy heavyweight, attracting more praise for his immigration plan and putting on staff a respected national security expert, Jamie Fly.
However, for the week just concluded, I will go just a little distance outside Washington, D.C., to Richmond, where Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is beginning his last year in office and could easily ride this year out. Instead, he introduced an ambitious transportation plan (involving a sales tax hike) and an education reform agenda. He proceeded to sign up support from everyone from teachers groups to business and labor.
Then the Associated Press reported Friday, “Virginia’s unemployment rate dipped in December to 5.5 percent, the lowest jobless number in four years. The seasonally adjusted rate announced Friday is down a fraction of a percentage point from November, still good enough to make December the third consecutive month that joblessness has declined.” McDonnell could be forgiven for crowing. (“Gov. Bob McDonnell called the December rate ‘great news’ for the state. He said it means more Virginia families have financial security and that businesses are continuing to grow. McDonnell credited the state’s pro-business climate and conservative fiscal policies.”)
McDonnell’s approval rating is already one of the highest in the country, and an impressive final year will cement his legacy as a constructive, accomplished conservative governor. He’s often overlooked as a contender for 2016, in part because he’ll be out of a job at the end of 2013. That said, he’s popular with nearly every contingent within the GOP (he’s making a name for himself among hawks by speaking out against the sequester) while keeping his purple state approval ratings high. While lawmakers aspiring for the presidency are creating a trail of hard votes and the personas of Washington insiders, McDonnell is cementing himself as a can-do outsider. If he can manage to remain visible, he will be a force to be reckoned with should he decide to run for president.
So for all that, well done, Governor.