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."