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Virginia's Bob McDonnell highlights ascendance of U.S. governors

August 15, 2011|By Michael Muskal
  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, shown last month in Manassas, Va., is succeeding Texas Gov. Rick Perry as head of the Republican Governors Assn.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, shown last month in Manassas, Va., is succeeding… (Steve Helber / Associated…)

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took over as chairman of the Republican Governors Assn. on Monday, raising his political profile and joining a stream of top state executives of both parties who are fast on their way to becoming national figures well in time for 2016 or perhaps even 2012.

The association said on its website that McDonnell, who had been the group’s vice chairman, would be the new head, succeeding Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced over the weekend that he would run for the GOP presidential nomination.

“It is a tremendous honor to lead the RGA,” McDonnell said. “Thanks to the strong leadership of Governor Perry and the nation’s 29 Republican governors, the RGA is in position to have an unprecedented impact this election cycle.”

In 2008, both major-party presidential nominees -- President Obama and John McCain -- were U.S. senators. But with polls depicting a public deeply unhappy with Congress, the political terrain may have shifted to favor residents of governors' mansions. Two of this year's three leading candidates for the GOP nod come out of statehouses, including Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The third, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, is a member of the legislative chamber long considered more in touch with the mood of the public.

Perhaps more importantly, some top state officials have gained attention for their initiatives in an era of fiscal retrenchment. Governors have cut budgets, renegotiated state worker contracts and created forceful political images against weaker state legislatures. New Jersey’s Chris Christie, a Republican, and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, have well positioned themselves for possible national campaigns at some point.

McDonnell wants voters to see Republican governors in that same mold.

“Republican governors are leading the way in helping the private sector create new jobs, reforming government and getting our economy back on track,” McDonnell stated, stressing the themes that the GOP will use throughout the 2012 cycle.

Elected governor of Virginia in 2009, McDonnell is limited to one term, so he will be out of work in 2014 – in plenty of time for the 2016 campaign. He is a possible vice presidential candidate next year, depending on who wins his party’s top spot.

On Friday, the New Hampshire GOP announced that McDonnell would be the keynote speaker at the party’s annual fundraiser Sept. 26 in the state that hosts the first presidential primary on the country's election calendar.

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