You have to sort of feel bad for Bob McDonnell. Coming up through the ranks of the Virginia Republican Party, it was never a liability that he took the most reflexively right-wing position on social issues. And yet he now may be denied the prize he has desperately sought, the Republican vice-presidential nomination, because of his anti–women’s rights extremism.
McDonnell was elected governor of the mid-sized swing state next to the nation’s capital in 2009 and he was pegged as a future leader of the GOP. Just months after he won the gubernatorial race over Democrat Creigh Deeds, he was selected to deliver the Republicans’ official response to President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union. Like most responses to the State of the Union, it wasn’t very memorable, but he managed not to embarrass himself and damage his national prospects in the way that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did in 2009.
McDonnell was primed to be a top contender for the vice-presidential slot. He is known in his state as a canny political operator and his Southern accent lends folksiness to an affable but otherwise slightly staid speaking style. Unlike some other potential vice-presidential prospects—Jindal, for example, Rick Perry—McDonnell endorse Mitt Romney and campaigned with him in early primary states such as South Carolina.
Among ardent conservatives, McDonnell’s star has continued to rise. On Friday he gave the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago, which The Atlantic’s Molly Ball writes, “served as a cattle call of sorts for a handful of potential vice-presidential contenders from across the country.” Unlike many speakers McDonnell made a full surrogate’s case for Romney. He also has the virtue of being gray enough that, unlike, say, Chris Christie, he won’t generate too much excitement among the right wing base and outshine the top of the ticket as Sarah Palin did to John McCain. “If the veepstakes are indeed to be a competition to be the most inoffensive possible choice, McDonnell ought to be in the running,” Ball concludes.
But this weekend Politico reported that McDonnell isn’t in the running at all. Citing “the thinking of people that Romney listens to on every other question,” Mike Allen reports that there are four leading finalists: Senator Rob Portman (OH), Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota governor and presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio (FL), Senator John Thune (SD). And, Allen adds, “Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, on WTOP’s ‘Ask the Governor’ on May 29: ‘I am not being vetted by [Romney’s] campaign.’”
What happened? It’s certainly not for lack of effort on McDonnell’s part. He recently went so far as to buy time for positive ads touting his record, in the hopes of boosting his approval rating, despite not being up for re-election. Political reporters suspected he was trying to burnish his vice-presidential credentials.