November 5th, 2009
05:15 AM ET
9 years ago

Bob McDonnell: The GOP's newest superstar?

Republicans are pointing to Bob McDonnell's winning formula in Virginia as a way forward for the GOP.

Republicans are pointing to Bob McDonnell's winning formula in Virginia as a way forward for the GOP.

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) - He has yet to been sworn in as the 71st governor of Virginia, but the Republican Party appears to have found its newest superstar in Bob McDonnell.

With his resounding win Tuesday in the battleground state of Virginia - a victory that halted a decade of gains for Democrats - top Republicans are boasting that McDonnell has uncovered a winning GOP formula for 2010 and beyond.

The blueprint, his supporters argue, is fairly simple: stay loyal to conservative principles, maintain a personal appeal that connects with voters, and focus like a laser on kitchen table issues.

Throughout the governor's race, Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds flogged McDonnell as a divisive social conservative preoccupied with issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control. But McDonnell beat back those attacks by concentrating on the troubled economy with a simple message: "Bob's for Jobs."

"McDonnell is a candidate who is very conservative, but he's while he's philosophically sound, he's temperamentally moderate," said Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition director who is a longtime friend of McDonnell's. "He's a consensus builder. He's a reasonable guy. I think that's the kind of face Republicans need to start putting forward."

Some Republicans in Washington are already chattering about how McDonnell could boost the 2012 Republican ticket as a vice presidential candidate, a scenario that might put Virginia back in the GOP column after Barack Obama won the state in 2008. Others believe he could be a presidential candidate himself down the road.

McDonnell, who doesn't take office until January, waved off the speculation on Wednesday.

"There's a lot of Kool-Aid in Washington," he joked during a press conference in Richmond. "I'm going to let folks talk about whatever they might want to talk about, but I'm going to be focused on Virginia."

Fred Malek, a prominent Republican fundraiser and party insider who spent Election Night in Richmond with McDonnell, agreed that it's too early to speculate about the governor-elect's political future. But he said he expects Republicans around the country to welcome McDonnell as a campaigner and fundraiser for years to come.

"He's going to be one of the biggest stars in the Republican Party, as someone who showed the direction of what it takes to win as a Republican," Malek told CNN.

That sentiment was echoed by former Virginia Sen. George Allen, who himself was a rising GOP star before stumbling in his 2006 his re-election bid, losing narrowly to Democrat Jim Webb. Allen said he admired McDonnell's playbook because he made clear where he stood on divisive social issues, but chose not to put them at the center of his campaign.

McDonnell captured two-thirds of Virginia's crucial independent voters on Tuesday thanks to that strategy, Allen argued.

"Bob was advocating ideas of jobs, economy, energy, education and transportation that people cared about," he said. "The lesson from Bob's campaign is, offer ideas but keep your party united and attract independent voters."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele trumpeted McDonnell's win Tuesday as the beginning of a Republican renaissance ahead of next year's midterms. But he wasn't quite ready to predict what the election means for McDonnell's role in the national party.

"That's yet to be determined," Steele told CNN. "Let's get him inaugurated first."

Filed under: Bob McDonnell • GOP • Popular Posts • Virginia
soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Michelle

    And he can even use the language correctly. Regardless, one governorship does not a rebound make (or even two.) Republicans looking for a better national result next year better start praying that their representatives stop blocking every blessed thing and start working for America instead of for face time on Fox News. Health care reform is long past due, and demonizing segments of this country does not work (remember what happened to your precious Sarah.)

    November 5, 2009 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  2. Fools and their freedoms are soon parted

    So maybe he can also win a nobel prize for doing nothing except get elected.

    Can't wait to see the posts from the liberal hypocrites about this. bring on the hate and racebaiting of Michael Steele.

    November 5, 2009 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  3. Tom C

    Ok, don't talk about all the issues you believe in, just talk about a couple so people don't know how you really feel. That is lying by ommission. Nice strategy.

    November 5, 2009 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  4. Yar in NJ

    What about Chris Christie? He's pretty good too just overweight. Also, the Democrates better talk to Obama and get him to stop being so liberal or he's going to be in a world of trouble.

    November 5, 2009 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  5. not surprised in va

    You know the rich religious right (how are they helping the poor which is what Jesus preached???) backed this guy so they have another puppet to ruin the Republican party. All the ignorant, small-minded, followers then will go out and vote for their poster boy, because it's a requirement to get into heaven. ( I'm being sarcastic ) Just drive out to some of the rural counties outside of Northern VA – Confederate flags a flying. That's the type of mentality that exists. Hatred and fear of differences.

    Maybe someday we will have government officials that won't play to the masses' weaknesses. They would use their voices to explain complex issues with logic and class, and won't tout the Bible as a governing rulebook over a country that is supposed to enforce the separation of church and state. This is what tears nations all over the world apart, and allows for religious-ruled killings and hatred in the name of God.

    November 5, 2009 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  6. USMC VET - Boston

    Sounds like Roland McDonnell were I could get some fries.

    November 5, 2009 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  7. John Metsopoulos

    Wake up he was elected because the economy was in the toilet and he ran against an unknown, people did not elect him because of his "consevative politics"

    November 5, 2009 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  8. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    He may have won, but can he really lead the legislature in what needs to get done? Can he cross party lines and do what is needed in VA? That remains to be seen.

    November 5, 2009 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  9. db

    Probably not. See, this election wasn't so much about McDonnell as it was about the electorate, which has been well-documented as center-right. Obama was able to snow a lot of folks by playing both sides during campaign 2008, but now that he and the Democrat-controlled Congress have had the run of Washington for almost a year, people are waking up. What we're getting is business as usual on steroids.

    November 5, 2009 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  10. strong

    Just what we need, another politician.

    As if he would make any difference to anything.

    November 5, 2009 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  11. Marty, Grand Rapids MI

    "I think that's the kind of face Republicans need to start putting forward."

    So, the face of the republican party should look/sound moderate but actually be really conservative? Is this the same Ralph reed that used evangelical Christians to further his career because he knew they would blindly follow his lead? Nice. McDonnell is Virginia's problem, there is less a Republican can mess up at the state level.

    November 5, 2009 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  12. Val, ky

    just another boiler-plate politician. (yawn....)

    nothing has changed.

    November 5, 2009 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  13. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    The best than can be said for Bob McDonnell is that he's a bit less likely than a Democrat to go on wild spending sprees with other people's money. Virginia taxpayers should be relieved he won, but are going to have to watch him very closely to make sure he doesn't start inflicting neo-con, bible-thumping, nuttiness on them.

    November 5, 2009 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  14. Unlimited

    Us Americans never learn do we?

    November 5, 2009 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  15. Keith in Austin

    Here comes the Liberal trash-talkers I'm sure! You weaklings just can't help yourselves can you? Hahahah!

    November 5, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I'd be very happy if McDonnell turned out to be good for Virginia, and if he did not let his Party get in the way of working with the new administration whenever the chance presented itself. It just seems that as soon as Republicans get elected into office they morph into blindly irrational human beings, and throw decency, common sense and civility out the window. As I see Shrub and Clinton socializing, however, I am fairly certain that the transformation only lasts as long as their term in office, thankfully.

    Congratulations Gov. McDonnell.

    November 5, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  17. John, Brooklyn, NY

    It demonstrates how much disarray characterizes the current Republican Party that a first-term governor of a seconf-tier state (population wise – no disrespect to Virginians intended) suddenly becomes a "superstar". Its clear that the Republicans have virtually no national-level bench strength.

    November 5, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  18. T'SAH from Virginia

    IT IS WRITTEN "...stay loyal to conservative principles, maintain a personal appeal that connects with voters, and focus like a laser on kitchen table issues."

    Dang, this is NOT why got McDonnell elected!! He got elected because DEMOCRATS – mainly African Americans (and I am BLACK and approve this message) and voters under 30 – STAYED HOME!!!

    Second, CREIGH DEEDS ran a crappy campaign – CASE and POINT!! McDonnell DID NOT WIN, Creigh Deeds LOST!!

    Talk about the race in NC where a GAY mayor won; talk about the first African American Democrat that won in NC since Harvey Gantt… YES WE CAN!!! So your PRINCIPLES mean NOTHING!!!

    NOW – Bring the JOBS and fix the roads WITHOUT raising taxes like you promised. We're about to LAY off teachers and employees next year – SAVE THAT – because my job was saved through the STIMULUS the last time – Now What???

    November 5, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  19. Trylon

    Here is a heads-up from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    "McDonnell is a graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University, and the TV preacher and his family made large contributions to McDonnell's campaign." – – see

    There is nothing illegal about that. I, however, want to vote for political candidates who are alumnae of the prestigious and fair-minded Howard Stern and Bill Maher University. I'd bet that Howard and Bill would make sizable contributions to the political campaigns of their institution's graduates, and there would be nothing illegal about that. What, me worry?

    November 5, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  20. Vigla

    This is the yupe of Republican that will never win nationally and the reason why people are disgusted with Republicans in general. He is probably OK as Gov of Virginia, but to make him out to be their savior is just plain crazy.

    November 5, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  21. Steve

    I just sneezed up something that has more charisma than this guy.

    November 5, 2009 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  22. Kevin in Ohio

    One of MANY that can easily take on the corrupt and misguided Obama administration in 2012.

    November 5, 2009 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  23. steve

    For the Rep Michelle Bachmanns zombies/ tea party "freedom fighters" going to d.c to confront Dems members of congress over health care reform, right now you have the freedom to die or go bankrupt with the status quo. Good luck.

    November 5, 2009 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  24. Lee

    The Republicans are full of crap. They lost two congressional races in California and New York. The NY 23rd loss for the Republicans/conservatives is a repudiation of them. That district was about as solid Republican as a district can get and they lost! Now they need to get lost! Historically voters are more conservative "at home" and more progressive with representation in the Congress. So no matter how the Republicans try to spin McDonnell's win the one true thing is that, as he said, there is a lot of Kool-Aid in DC and the Republicans are drinking it.

    November 5, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  25. ran

    Will the people of that state give him just 8-10 months to change things like they have President Obama?

    No matter how the media/Republicans try to spin this past Tuesday's election, the fact remains that the republicans and Bush got us here over 8 yrs and President Obama has had only 1yr to correct some of the messes.

    To all those swing state Democrats do your job the best you can and stop worrying about you job. You will win if you do the people's business not by doing what you think will keep your job.

    I am here to tell you we want action not gridlock or you trying to hold onto your job.

    This is a prime reason we need term limits then you all will not have to worry so much because you positions are not yours forever.

    November 5, 2009 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
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