Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have both asked Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, for his endorsement in the GOP primary.

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, shakes the hand of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The third frontrunner, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, has not called him, but the two met once about a year ago in Washington.

“I am somewhat surprised, but pleasantly surprised, to see how well Herman Cain is doing,’’ McDonnell said. “I like him. He’s just the real deal — a guy that’s taken companies from nothing to success. That’s exactly what we need.”

McDonnell, one of the most popular governors in the nation, has said he may stay out of the race altogether, though he has said he prefers for a governor to be the nominee. As a possible vice presidential contender, it would make sense to stay out of the contest as long as possible.

“This things have a very long way to go. It’s 90 days before the first votes get counted,’’ he said. “It’s still very competitive. You have two people who have far and away the most money — that’s the two governors — and somebody who has captured the hearts of the Republican voters that’s Herman Cain.”

McDonnell said he has spoken to several of the presidential candidates in the last year or so, but only Perry and Romney call him regularly. He last talked to Perry a few days ago and Romney about a month ago.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

As we reported earlier this week, Romney will visit Virginia next week for his first public event in the swing state this election cycle.

The former Massachusetts governor will hold a fundraiser in Fairfax County Tuesday and stop by the Fairfax County Republican Committee headquarters Wednesday. McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will appear with him.

Romney, considered the national frontrunner, has been in Virginia several times this year for fundraisers, including in Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach .

McDonnell invited Romney to come to Virginia after Perry, the governor of Texas, addressed an event for the state party in Richmond.

“We’ve invited for months and months and months and months,’’ he said. “We just haven’t been able to get a time for him to come.”

In August, Romney named Bolling chairman of his campaign in Virginia.

Romney was a frequent visitor to Virginia in 2008 when he ran for president and in 2009 to help McDonnell and Bolling with their races.

McDonnell supported former senator Fred Thompson in 2008.