On Tuesday when Rick Santorum bowed out of the presidential race two things happened: Mitt Romney became the presumed Republican nominee and the veepstakes officially started.
Throughout the past year the names of a dozen or so potential vice presidential candidates have been tossed about, analyzed, ruled in and ruled out. None of that really matters now. It’s a whole new ballgame.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is on just about everyone’s list of potential veeps. In fact, he may be destined for the short list. The governor is term-limited, Virginia is a key swing state and McDonnell is checking off many of the boxes that could eventually land him on Romney’s ticket.
Here are a few of the boxes.
Make an endorsement at a key moment and represent a constituency with whom the nominee is weak:
Days before the South Carolina primary when Romney was at risk of going off the rails, McDonnell made his endorsement and proclaimed, “It’s a Southern primary. I’m a Southern governor and I thought I could help [Romney] by coming out today.”
Demonstrate the ability to wield power:
McDonnell vetoed seven bills sent to his desk by the General Assembly this year. Never before has a Virginia governor nixed as many. He also amended more than 100 other pieces of legislation.
It’s the economy, stupid. Show me the money:
McDonnell is currently on a four-day trade mission to New York and Canada, Virginia’s top trading partner. His previous junkets to China, England, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands and South Korea have resulted in export agreements and other deals. In June, McDonnell heads to England, Germany and Sweden where he’ll be promoting goods and services produced in Virginia.
The June trip has the added bonus of demonstrating foreign policy chops at a time when the veepstakes is likely to be heating up.
Manage expectations, speculation and the media by professing love for your current position and playing down interest in the vice presidency:
Asked if he would like to be vice president, McDonnell said the decision belongs to Romney and added, "I got the job held by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry -- governor of Virginia. Doesn't get any better than that."
Navigate a highly charged political situation:
When faced with the prospect of having to sign legislation that would require women to undergo mandatory ultrasounds before having abortions, McDonnell found himself in the middle of a heated national debate. At first, McDonnell supported the controversial bill. But protests and a drubbing by countless critics forced the governor to second-think the measure. In the end he signed a diluted version of the law and, though he took hits from the left and right, reached a compromise that doused the flames of a political firestorm.
Half a check.
During the tumultuous debate many observers believed McDonnell’s vice presidential hopes could be dashed. However, now that the dust has settled the damage he suffered appears to have been temporary and much less significant than the worst predictions.
In fact, perhaps that earns McDonnell a full check. The ability to emerge from battle and live to fight another day is a valued commodity in politics, especially for a potential running mate who may be asked to wade into thorny fights on Romney’s behalf.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.