November 5th, 2009
05:15 AM ET
4 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. tigerakabj

    McDonnell indeed focused on stuff that matters. If the GOP actually did what McDonnell did nationwide, they would indeed have better numbers. Surprise, surprise - focusing on the issues instead of calling everything marxist or socialist actually works. What a concept. Good for McDonnell. Creigh Deeds ran a terrible campaign, running against the popular public option and having not being clear on what he would do about the issues.

    With that said, Democrats John Warner and Tim Kaine won in 2001 and 2005 respectively. This deals with local state politics, like NJ. And other Dems are governors of red states (i.e. Tennessee, Oklahoma, Wyoming, etc).

    Now that he will be governor, McDonnell should focus here and now on the problems of today. He starts getting ahead of himself like the previous GOP "rising star" Mark Sanford of S.C. and doing wrong by his constituents, he'll be done.

    November 5, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  2. Texas Doc

    No, no, no. The way for the GOP to win is like NY 23. At least that's what the teabagger victory plan is. Good luck winning with your lunatic base.

    November 5, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  3. Ben in Texas

    Bob's just another middle-of-the-road guy who thinks women shouldn't be in the workforce, that we should all be his brand of Christian, that what goes on in a woman's uterus is the business of Big Government, that the rich should get ever more tax breaks, and that working people can just go screw themselves.

    These guys squeeze 2/3 of the political spectrum into 1/10 of the picture. They think the center begins with Rush Limbaugh. Virginia, you'll get what you deserve.

    November 5, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  4. LacrosseMom

    GO GOP!!! Go Bob McDonnell!!! Clearly, voters demonstrated they're tired of having this ultra-left agenda thrown at them.

    November 5, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  5. Mississippi Miss

    "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."

    Very well written and a great description of the kind of leadership that
    is cultivated within the 'conservative' movement.

    We have turned a corner, and I have great optimism that God will bless America, if we remember our roots and our Creator.

    November 5, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  6. Clive

    Social conservative. Two steps forward, three steps back... Ugh....
    What is wrong with America??

    November 5, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  7. We Won Get Over It

    Oh gee Oh golly wolly...governors are more important than representatives, senators, vice president, and president.

    Methinks it is because CNN has a republican as a governor and they have to make the most of it ...what laws in DC does he forge, what laws, what bills to benefit the people in the whole country does he make and vote on.

    It governors are so much more important than representatives and senators, then why in Hades did the conservative screamers go after the seat in NY 23. Why dont' they just run around the country and campaign for governors and let the representatives and senators be turned over to the democrats. HECK HECK that's a darn good idea.

    November 5, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  8. Chris

    For the Republican to tout his win and the NJ win as something to come is a bit stupid. Everyone knows many folks do not vote in off season elections only the tried and true. Who are the tried and true you ask? Folks who generally are back and forth on who they vote for given the situation they are in. We call them independents but they are just folks who look at what is going on in their localand state governments and how it effect them. Therefore trying to spin these wins as problems with the President is crazy and for the GOP to say it is stupid. These are not a tell tell sign of things to come. Everyone in America want jobs and they don't care how the government goes about getting them jobs. If they need to spend to do it, so do it. Everyone wants healthcare reform and if it takes money to get it so do it. The problem i see is that the folks who will take the increase in taxes are folks who make 250k more and that really don't affect me, so i don't care.

    November 5, 2009 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  9. Shaun Reilly

    Speaking as a Virginian, even though I didn't vote for him I hope McDonell is the best Governor this state has ever had. But for anyone reading these outside the state you should know this election was a landslide because 1) Deeds was invisible. I never even heard him speak (T.V., radio, anywhere) during the whole election and 2) No one outside the GOP base in this state cared about this race. This was not a referendum on Obama. This is an example of what happens when two people no one cares about get together and compete for something.

    November 5, 2009 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  10. munchmom

    Sounds good to me! But, like he said, he should stay focused on Virginia for the time being.

    November 5, 2009 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  11. Vietnam Combat Veteran, Ohio

    So how many women voted for this jerk?

    November 5, 2009 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  12. Republicans are the American Taliban

    He's the guy who wrote his thesis paper promoting the subjugation of women right??Now there;s a superstar to hitch your wagon to if there ever was one. Palin/McDonnell 2012 ....

    November 5, 2009 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  13. Johnny DC

    News flash - the GOP's new superstar is Barack Obama.

    November 5, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  14. If wishes were horses,

    McDonnell deserves to be a star. He really thought through how to win. He acted accordingly and he delivered. Those who listened to Sarah, went with water like her saying: "Dead fish go with the flow"!

    November 5, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  15. Rick D in Chicago

    Another middle aged clean cut white male... exactly what the Republicans need.

    November 5, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  16. teena

    So one of his best friends is the leader of the Christian Coalition? We will see how moderate he is after he talks office!

    November 5, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  17. Jayden,FL

    Hahah yea ok.... somebody break that news to Palin...

    November 5, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  18. Justin

    "He's a consensus builder. He's a reasonable guy."

    That's the last thing GOP radicals want in their candidates. He better start breathing fire, or he'll be out with the party's 'base.'

    Will he take Palin's calls if he goes national?

    November 5, 2009 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  19. Steve

    The guy won an election. That's it. That doesn't make him a "superstar." It makes him a guy who won an election. Please let's not anoint politicians as "stars" for the sake of generating more news. That's how we end up with presidents like Barack Obama.

    November 5, 2009 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  20. MARK-USN Retired Virginia

    All of this Hoopla about Bob McDonnell winning; we all have to realize that the Democrats screwed the pooch right from the start by nominating Creigh Deeds. While Mr Deeds is a good man and effective legislator here in VA, he was never the guy to win an off-year election. Mr McDonnell utilized the massive cash pumped into the state by the GOP (so the could claim "referendum") to put a moderate face onto a neoconsrvative and duped the state into believing that he was NOT the man who wrote the Thesis for CBN University that could be likened to the writings of a Muhla rather than an American Governor. One example in ads to the women of Virginia stated that as Attorney General he had hired some 55% of women as State prosecutors, which was true, however he failed to mention that 80% of those had graduated from Regent Law School (Pat Robertsons CBN Law School). You remember, the Law school which trainined those appointees who created the rendition and enhanced interrogation technique approvals and also directed the firing of left leaning federal prosecutors for the Bush administration. So be ready Ye Old Dominion, the Theocracy that you have been seeking is on your doorstep. Ladies of Virginia, say good bye to your equality and hello to your Burqas.

    November 5, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  21. Jim - St. Louis

    "He's a consensus builder. He's a reasonable guy. I think that's the kind of face Republicans need to start putting forward." That's the way they all start until the religious right gets hold of them.

    November 5, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  22. haren

    Republican party is really on oxygen lacking of any super star trying to make any tom dick and Jerry super star.

    November 5, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  23. Dave in WNY

    One characteristic McDonnell has shown that I haven't seen since Jack Kemp has been a willingness and an ease to reach out to minorities and Hispanics. He kept his campaign honest and the message in plain English. I think the message here is that if you speak from the heart and don't patronize certain groups of people, people will give you an honest evaluation. I think it's human nature.

    November 5, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  24. Olivia

    Republicans have a new "superstar" every week. The GOP doesn't really have anything. They are circling the drain....Time to flush!!

    November 5, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  25. Karl

    In other words, he didn't say how he felt loud enough to make the progressives get out and vote. He was quiet enough to make sure that there was no negative excitement . Not sure how this will turn out, but as someone in the political center but care about the impact it has on others I do have my fears.
    I am educated and have a fair income and will do fine no matter who wins, but, I do worry about others.

    November 5, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
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