Democrats in Virginia have long had the joy of running against Republicans who are - let's face it - not exactly the sharpest knives in the cupboard. Think about George Allen saying "macaca" repeatedly in front of a live camera, Bob Marshall expounding on pretty much whatever pops into his head, Ken Cuccinelli acting like the vizier of a banana republican issuing ever more bizarre declarations by the day.
Opposing these types of jokers is kinda like shooting fish in a barrel. It's not that hard to make fun of people who already are living, breathing caricatures.
But what if we had to face Repubs who actually think before they open their mouths? Alas, that sad day seems to have come to pass. Bob McDonnell is not your father's Virginia Republican. The transition from folks like George Allen and Jim Gilmore to Gov. Bob may be proof of the theory of (political) evolution.
This is not to say that McDonnell is in reality any less conservative (and he wants his followers to know that, wink, wink). But he seems able to make statements and take policy positions that don't leave him looking like a complete jackass.
|This is not to say that positions like slicing state services to the bone in order to avoid raising taxes on the wealthy, or throwing open Virginia's shores to oil drilling while doing nothing about energy efficiency, represent good governance. But Gov. Bob is shrewd enough to make just enough centrist-sounding statements and moves - like his recent smackdown of Gen. Cooch on discrimination against gays - to preserve the myth that he is a moderate. It's only a matter of time before David Broder writes a column gushing over the guy as the new messiah of the mushy middle.
This says to me that McDonnell is focused on a larger electorate than the wacko fringe of the rural VA GOP. Gov. Bob understands that growing areas of the state -- Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, Charlottesville -- are no longer content to be governed by right-wing fossils with their feet permanently stuck in their mouths.
But Virginia's one term limit on governors also always raises the question, the moment one assumes office, of what they're angling for next. Gov. Bob appears to be shrewdly positioning himself for his next big move, perhaps to aim at Mark Warner's Senate seat in 2014, or very possibly to run for president, as just about every VA governor since - I don't know, Thomas Jefferson? - has aimed to do.
It's interesting, because so far Gov. Bob has shown a lot of style but (as Elaine discusses below) very, very little substance. Yet that's often what seems to sell. Compare him to Washington mayor Adrian Fenty, who has focused on solving really tough, critical problems like remaking DC schools - yet ends up being hated by the voters for being snitty.
McDonnell, by contrast, could well maintain his popularity by remaining pleasant while doing nothing, nothing at all. If we let him get away with it, that is.