Bob McDonnell? Duh, winning!

You know, just like in the Kentucky Derby, there’s a nearly insurmountable gulf between a political thoroughbred and an overhyped also-ran. Many a politician fancies himself (or herself) potential Presidential material, only to discover in the final few lengths that he (or she) simply doesn’t have what it takes (a syndrome that we have recently labeled Romney’s Curse). Of course, what makes one pol rise above the rest is an ineffable combination of looks, skill, personality and —perhaps the key ingredient—raw luck.

Lucky him: Everything is coming up roses for Governor Bob McDonnell, whose office recently announced that Virginia had lured Steven Spielberg to Virginia for his latest film.

What got us musing on the vicissitudes of political fortune were a pair of completely unrelated events. The first was the recently concluded federal bribery and extortion trial of Phil Hamilton, who represented Newport News in the House of Delegates for 21 years, until voters finally gave him the boot in 2009.

Don’t get us wrong—we are in no way implying that Hamilton’s downfall is simply bad luck. In fact, his suspect activities (which involved appropriating half a million taxpayer bucks for Old Dominion University while simultaneously lobbying for a $40,000-a-year consulting job at the school) are among the most egregious examples of political graft we’ve seen. But we would also submit that this sort of mutually beneficial back-scratching happens all the time in state legislatures, and is in some ways the natural by-product of having part-time lawmakers who also work in the private sector. Hamilton’s sweetheart deal was so blatant, and his attempted suppression of his incriminating paper trail so ham-fisted, there was simply no way he could avoid his well-deserved fate.

The second event was the recent release of a Washington Post poll that found a truly impressive 62 percent of Virginians approve of the job Governor Bob McDonnell is doing.
When McDonnell was first elected, we were convinced that he was a blow-dried empty suit whose wingnut worldview would manifest itself the second he took office. But we are humble enough to admit that we were wrong. While we still don’t agree with most of McDonnell’s views, we fully accept that he has performed a masterful balancing act as governor, and has earned every one of those 62 percentage points.

Again, much of this is luck. Virginia’s recession was far milder than most, and having Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as a far-right foil has helped McDonnell look like a model of moderation. But McDonnell’s political skill has been a huge factor. He’s the sort of chief executive who can take a terrible policy (like attempting to regulate Planned Parenthood out of business), sign it into law, and still make it seem as if he had nothing to do with it.
And when it comes to the crowd-pleasing stuff—like lobbying Steven Spielberg to film his upcoming Lincoln biopic in Richmond —McDonnell has been hitting it out of the park. Sure, after all of the incentives and tax breaks Virginia will probably lose money on the deal. But who cares? Look, isn’t that Daniel Day-Lewis eating spa-nakopita at 3rd Street Diner?

This, friends, is why—while Phil Hamilton, that broken-down bronco, is headed for the glue factory—Bob McDonnell might just be headed for the White House.

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