Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell seems intent on not repeating the same mistakes that Virginia Republicans have made in the past:
In a rousing speech kicking off his run for Virginia’s highest office, Bob McDonnell told a room full of Republican supporters about his plans to jump-start the economy, lower college costs, reduce traffic and preserve the environment.
“We are going to offer bold, innovative ideas to solve problems,” he told an enthusiastic crowd waving red-and-blue “McDonnell for Governor” signs at the Homestead mountain resort in December.
Despite all the campaign trail fanfare, this was anything but the typical launch of a Republican campaign for governor of Virginia. In fact, McDonnell’s speech was remarkable for what went unsaid. Unlike past GOP nominees, McDonnell stayed silent on almost every bedrock conservative issue — abortion, guns, the sanctity of marriage, school choice — the very issues that served as the foundation for his 20-year political career.
Instead, McDonnell, 54, the former state attorney general, is trying to follow the lead of successful statewide candidates, in the mold of such moderate Democrats as Mark Warner and James Webb. On the trail, he touts a record of bipartisan compromise and peppers his speeches with references to crime-fighting proposals that won broad support. Even his campaign Web site prominently features accounts of his “working effectively with” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“I’m the same person I’ve been,” McDonnell said in an interview from his office, where he displays a painting of George Washington with his head lowered in prayer. “I’m conservative. But conservative means that you believe in limited government and low taxes and keeping regulations to a minimum. . . . It’s not just the social issues.”
This is sharp contrast from the way Republicans have been running statewide in Virginia recently:
Conservative social views used to be a staple of GOP gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia, but they’ve come up short in the past two campaigns. In 2001, Republican Mark Earley lost to Warner after campaigning against new taxes while talking up his support for school vouchers and opposition to abortion.
Four years ago, Republican Jerry Kilgore campaigned on the death penalty, illegal immigration and abortion. In the days leading to the election, he boasted that he was the “pro-gun-owner, anti-tax, limited-government, anti-illegal-immigration, pro-public-safety, pro-death-penalty . . . trust-the-people conservative.” He lost to Kaine.
Even members of his own party say Kilgore lost because he failed to gain credibility on issues suburbanites care about: education, traffic, health care and growth.
McDonnell’s Democratic opponent will, no doubt, try to characterize him based on his positions on social issues, and the fact that he graduated from Regent University Law School.
But McDonnell will have the field to himself for at least the next several months while the Democrats fight amongst themselves and it may be difficult for them to dislodge the more moderate image from the public’s mind.