McDonnell as VP? Va. Governor Could Help, Hinder

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - May 31, 2012

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McDonnell’s “mind is in economic issues, but his heart is in social issues,” speculates Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University. Still, Kidd describes McDonnell -- a Catholic -- as a “blue-blood social conservative. . . . He’s like an Episcopalian with religion: There’s a time and a place for it and there’s a way for it, as opposed to the red-meat, social Baptist conservative.”

McDonnell’s personal views have endeared him to Christian conservatives, a group with which Romney struggles and which could be integral to his election. But as much as McDonnell could help in that regard, he also brings baggage, including the ultrasound bill and other measures proposed by the commonwealth’s GOP legislature. “McDonnell can actually hurt Romney in Virginia because McDonnell’s popularity has really soured among women” there, says Kidd. “If independent-minded women get energized against McDonnell and Romney, that could really spell doom” for the ticket’s prospects. And most Republican strategists agree Romney cannot afford to lose Virginia.

Having said that, there are still many months to go until the election. And while it’s unclear when Romney will chose a running mate, the issues happening at the time he makes that decision will be important. If jobs and the economy are still the focus of the election, McDonnell may be best positioned for the job. “You want to balance or augment the ticket with the person who is No. 2, and in a lot of ways, given that jobs and the economy are so big, you almost want to bolster that with someone that’s trusted,” says Ford O’Connell, a Virginia-based GOP strategist who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign.

McDonnell is also viewed as a polished politician who won’t overshadow Romney on the stump, and someone who piously stays on message, says O’Connell. In an age where presidential candidates might be concerned about their running mates going rogue, McDonnell is a safe choice.

Plus, as RGA chairman, he has a wealth of organizational and donor networks across the county, let alone the Old Dominion, with its high median income. Virginia is also home to several military bases, and McDonnell could provide a boost in that regard: He served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, and his daughter completed a tour in Iraq as an officer in the Army.

Still, McDonnell’s job as governor of perhaps the most critical electoral state in the country remains his shiniest credential.

The question, though, remains: Does he have to be Romney’s running mate in order to deliver Virginia, or can the GOP nominee win it with the governor just as a surrogate?

“I think Bob is loyal to the party and he obviously is somebody who could help Mitt Romney no matter what,” says O’Connell.

McDonnell knows the stakes. In an interview with RCP at the RGA’s December conference, he said, “It’s a swing state. It’s a purple state. There’s no question about it. . . . It’s certainly possible for the president to win without winning Virginia. It’s much, much harder for a Republican to win without winning Virginia.” 

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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