Senior Regional Correspondent

As he lay on his pillow in the wee hours Wednesday after Virginia’s legislative elections, I imagine Gov. Bob McDonnell’s thoughts went something like this:

It was touch-and-go until midnight, but it looks like we pulled it off. Took the state Senate away from the Democrats. Came down to just 86 votes in that Spotsylvania district. Not too worried about the recount there. Margins tend to hold up in Virginia.

This was just what I needed to keep the buzz going for me to bag the veep nomination. Who else on the short list of possible GOP vice presidential picks can brag that he led the party to three victories in as many years in a key purple state?

Surely not Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida. Not Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada. Heck, not even Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey, for all the publicity he gets.

There’s a lot going my way right now. Mitt Romney’s probably going to be the nominee, and I balance him very nicely. He’s from Massachusetts, so he’s got to have a southerner. He’s a moderate, so he’s got to have a conservative. He’s a Mormon, so he’s got to have somebody trusted by the evangelical right.

I’m cool with the religious conservatives even though I haven’t pushed their anti-abortion, anti-gay stuff as governor. That’s because they know I’ve been with them from way back.

Oddly enough, it might even help that I wrote that famous master’s thesis back in 1989 when I was at Pat Robertson’s university. I said working women were “detrimental to the family.”

It caused a ruckus when that Washington Post reporter dug it up during my campaign for governor. Didn’t stop me from winning in a landslide, though. Now it’s evidence of major street cred with social conservatives, which is just the GOP crowd that Romney needs most.

Of course, Romney might like to tap one of his rivals for the nomination for the ticket’s No. 2 spot. But who’s going to be left standing? Herman Cain looks like a serial groper who keeps changing his story. Rick Perry can’t debate.

Romney also could decide he wants a woman, or somebody of color, or a celebrity type. Calling Condi Rice? If so, there’s nothing I can do.

But I can make darned sure I’m the obvious choice if he goes the white male route. I’ll help myself by stressing the right issues in the next legislative session.

So, top priority: Some high-profile measures to shrink government. Something to cheer the tea party base. Glad I recently asked state agencies to submit proposals for budget reductions of 2 percent, 4 percent or 6 percent. I might follow through on some of those.

Also, I’ll make a big push for pension reform. Force state employees to shoulder a bigger share of the cost of their retirement plans.

The hard part is going to be those hot-button bills that the legislature will send over now that Republicans are fully in charge. The trick is to preserve my conservative credentials without alienating the moderates Mitt and I would need to win nationwide.

I’ll handle them one case at a time. I’ll probably sign anything strengthening anti-union rules. It’s part of my jobs agenda. I’d be okay with weakening gun controls, even though it annoys the D.C. suburbs. I’ve always been a Second Amendment guy.

One issue I’d really like to avoid is immigration. The national GOP can’t afford to alienate Hispanics. Also, I’m proud of my immigrant Irish Catholic heritage. Does Romney realize how much a Notre Dame graduate could help him on the ticket?

Then there’s abortion. I’ll try to get my friends in the legislature to block any bill that would legally declare a fetus a person. They couldn’t pass that even in Mississippi. We don’t need to be sparring over that in Virginia.

Besides, I approved rules this year requiring abortion clinics to be regulated like hospitals. That, and the thesis, ought to be plenty for my old friends in the anti-abortion camp.

What else? National security! It’s hard for me, as a governor, to prove bona fides there. But I’ve got 21 years as an officer in the U.S. Army and Reserve. My daughter served in Iraq. That will help.

Never hurts to go the extra mile, though. That’s why I’m scheduled to leave Wednesday evening for a trade mission in Israel and India. When I return, maybe I’ll phone Mitt and tell him what I learned.

I discuss local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM).