For Bob McDonnell, VP Talk Won’t Go Away

by Stuart Rothenberg November 9, 2011 · 9:24 AM EST

If, as many Republicans hope and most GOP political operatives seem to expect, Virginia Republicans win enough seats tonight to take control of the state’s Senate, you will hear another round of talk about Gov. Bob McDonnell as a potential running mate for the Republican nominee in 2012.

A Republican victory would be seen by many as a victory for McDonnell because he has been actively involved in promoting his party’s legislative candidates and also because local and national reporters always want to draw big conclusions for every political development, regardless of whether those conclusions are justified.

Republican control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governorship in Virginia would let Republicans redraw the state’s Congressional lines. Currently, the Democratic-held state Senate and the Republican-held state House have been unable to agree on a new map, and political insiders believe state Democrats would be happy to let a federal court draw a new map for the next decade.

GOP operatives are concerned that a court might decide to create a new minority-influence district, which might end up forcing two Republicans to run against each other in southeastern Virginia, thereby costing the party a House seat.

But while a Republican takeover of the state Senate would allow party strategists to solidify their Congressional incumbents, it probably wouldn’t mean very much for McDonnell. His potential attractiveness as a running mate predates the election results and has more to do with his attributes and appeal.

While most high-profile officeholders around the country have seen their ratings fall, recent polling shows that Virginia voters believe that McDonnell has been a successful governor. A remarkable 62 percent of the state’s registered voters approved of the job he was doing as governor, according to an early October Quinnipiac University poll.

But McDonnell isn’t alone in having strong poll numbers in the Old Dominion. Virginians also gave relatively high ratings to their Democratic Senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb.

McDonnell’s appeal as a potential running mate, for Mitt Romney in particular, includes his ideology, his personal style and rhetoric, his religion and his state.

McDonnell is a consistent conservative whose views on cultural and economic issues are right in the mainstream of his party. If conservatives distrust Romney’s ideological bent (and they do), they will have few problems with the Virginia governor’s ideological instincts.

Unlike some Republicans, McDonnell never sounds angry, confrontational or intolerant. He seems respectful of those with whom he disagrees, and his rhetoric is inclusive and optimistic. All of that makes him hard to dislike and a much more difficult target for Democrats and liberals than his GOP attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, for example.

Romney, a Mormon, would be a tough pill for evangelicals to swallow, and a consistently pro-life Catholic who earned a graduate degree and a law degree from Regent University, as McDonnell did, would give conservative evangelicals a reason to be excited about the GOP ticket.

Of course, McDonnell is from Virginia, one of a dozen or so states that are often identified as the keys to the 2012 presidential election. President Barack Obama can win a second term without winning Virginia’s electoral votes, but it’s hard to see any Republican winning the White House in 2012 without carrying Virginia (and neighboring North Carolina).

If McConnell can guarantee that the GOP carried the Old Dominion, he would surely be an asset on the ticket.

If there is a negative to adding McDonnell to a Republican ticket led by Romney, it’s the Virginian’s “look.”

Romney and McDonnell look like two peas in a pod — a couple of white guys with perfectly combed hair. Each resembles a figure on a wedding cake.

In 1992, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, two Southern Democrats about the same age (two years apart) ran on a generational message of change. It worked for them, but against a Democratic ticket led by a 50-year-old Obama, a GOP ticket of Romney, 64, and McDonnell, 57, might look awfully bland.

Of course, McDonnell’s ultimate appeal as a running mate would depend, at least to some extent, on his relationship with the person in the top spot.

Today’s voting in Virginia will have an effect on Congressional redistricting and McDonnell’s reputation.

Like all local reporters, even Washington, D.C.-based reporters are likely to hype the story of the “local” politician, and the growth of the Northern Virginia suburbs makes almost any statewide development in the Old Dominion a local issue for media in the nation’s capital. In other words, tonight’s results certainly will be examined in light of their effect on McDonnell’s political future.

But the governor’s prospects of joining the national GOP ticket next year probably depend on other matters than whether his party wins the state Senate later today. Win or lose, McDonnell is sure to get a look by his party’s nominee for the White House.