Old McDonnell flies below the radar

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You know, when it comes to politics, sometimes it’s good to be invisible. Sure, most elected officials dream of having Barack Obama’s charisma, JFK’s sex appeal, Hillary Clinton’s smarts and Ronald Reagan’s hair—but then, most of them also dream of being president, and we all know how often that fantasy ends in tears.

But the truly savvy pols know that, every once in a while, the best strategy is to do nothing at all (hell, George Pataki made an entire career out of it). If your opponent is busy making a fool of himself (see Allen, George) or, even better, the opposing party is in the midst of a savage, self-defeating free-for-all (see every Democratic primary ever), your best bet is to simply kick back, crack open a cold one and enjoy the fun.

Well, right now, Virginia’s ex-Attorney General Bob McDonnell is in this exact, very enviable position. Not only is he running unopposed in the Republican gubernatorial primary, but his Democratic counterparts are currently embroiled in a three-way pie fight that shows no signs of abating.

It didn’t always seem fated to work out this way, however. Early on, it looked like the Dem primary would be a fairly sedate affair, and that McDonnell would either reprise his AG battle with state Senator Creigh Deeds (a race McDonnell won by a scant 360 votes), or square off against Delegate Brian Moran. But then, out of left field (deep, deep left field) came Terry McAuliffe, who parachuted onto the primary playfield with a huge wad of cash and the kind of off-kilter appeal exhibited by your favorite drunk uncle on Thanksgiving.

Now, with the Dem primary a mad scramble (the latest polls show McAuliffe holding a narrow lead, with nearly half of all voters still undecided), McDonnell really has only one big problem to deal with—the increasingly dysfunctional state of his own party.

While McDonnell has been doing everything in his power to move to the political center (“conservative means…limited government and low taxes and keeping regulations to a minimum,” he recently told The Washington Post. “It’s not just the social issues”), large chunks of the Republican Party of Virginia seem to be drifting increasingly to the right, setting up a battle royale between the ideologues and the pragmatists.

And ground zero of this battle, at the moment, is the ongoing effort to oust current RPV chairman Jeff Frederick, whose lame fundraising, provocative quips and recent adventures with Twitter have, many believe, cost the party dearly. With members of Virginia’s House and Senate calling for Frederick’s head, and the RPV’s central committee scheduling a vote to remove him, it seemed that McDonnell simply couldn’t keep quiet any longer. So, with much regret (we’re sure), the invisible man recently released a statement calling for “more effective leadership” of the party, thereby igniting a minor press feeding frenzy and blowing the lid off his anonymity.

At which point the three Dem contenders stopped trading body blows for a second, looked around quizzically, and said, “Wait a minute—who’s Bob McDonnell?”

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