Bob McDonnell grew up in northern Virginia near Washington D.C., attending a Catholic High School there. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame, thanks to an R.O.T.C. scholarship. After receiving his degree in business administration, McDonnell was required to serve in the U.S. Army for four years, which he did as a medical supply officer. During this same period, McDonnell also earned a Masters degree in Business. He went to work for American Hospital Supply Corporation following his departure from the Army, but soon chose to pursue a law doctorate with Regent University (a conservative Evangelical institution in Virginia Beach founded by the controversial Pat Robertson) which he obtained in 1989. McDonnell has been married to Maureen Patricia McDonnell since 1976. They have five children.
McDonnell ran for the Virginia House of Delegates, first getting elected in 1992 and serving seven terms ending in 2005. He amassed a solidly conservative voting record, and was given 100% ratings by the National Federation of Independent Businesses several times. McDonnell opposed new taxes, and worked for parole abolition, welfare-to-work, tougher sentencing for drug crimes, and juvenile justice reform.
When he chose to run for Virginia Attorney General in 2005, McDonnell faced Democrat Creigh Deeds, a State Senator, and hammered on law-and-order themes on the campaign trail. McDonnell won by less than 400 votes out of 1.9 million votes cast. After taking office, McDonnell worked on pushing conservative issues such as a State Constitutional Amendment to bar same sex marriage, and authorizing state agencies to work with the Immigration Service to identify and arrest illegal immigrants.
In the campaign to fill the Virginia Governor’s seat in 2009, McDonnell promised that Virginians could profit from local offshore oil and gas drilling and spoke in favor of job creation and fiscal responsibility. McDonnell promised to shut down the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control store chain and replace it with private liquor licenses, in order to gain an initial payback of a hundred million dollars to use on highway construction. Democrat Creigh Deeds argued that McDonnell’s Regent University Thesis revealed him as a religious extremist who is socially intolerant of working women and gays, but McDonnell was able to convince most voters that he had changed over the intervening twenty years. This time, McDonnell won convincingly over Deeds.
As Governor, McDonnell’s plan to privatize liquor sales and use the profits on roads ran into strong opposition from Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly and was dropped. He was able to convince the General Assembly to authorize $3 billion in new borrowing for road building in Virginia.
After the limited success of his first year, constrained by serious budget shortfalls, McDonnell promised in December 2010 that “”We’ll be plenty bold this session.” He immediately delivered on this promise by taking the controversial step of responding to a tuition hike at Virginia Commonwealth University by withholding state contributions to that University equaling one-half of the tuition increase. McDonnell also advocated ending all state support for public broadcasting.
McDonnell’s moderate demeanor in politics has served him well. This image has enabled him to attract independent voters, who are numerous in Virginia. Voters who dig deeper into his record however see a strong and consistent conservatism. McDonnell’s ability to straddle the conservative/moderate divide is the key to his success in Virginia, which despite its status as the old Capitol state of the Confederacy has become a critical swing state in recent year due to changing demographics. McDonnell has consistently avoided the sort of large scale tax increase proposals that are Red Flag issues for conservatives, positioning himself well for a conservative national audience.
In terms of timing, the 2016 campaign will find McDonnell three years beyond the end of his Governorship of Virginia, so there will be no job responsibilities to interfere with his plans. It should be noted that McDonnell’s strong religious and right-to-life credentials could help him with highly conservative voters, and that he has curried favor as Governor with the NRA by permitting open weapon carry in Virginia State Parks, and concealed carry in restaurants. McDonnell’s approval rating in Virginia was 51% in February 2011. McDonnell began his efforts to address a national Republican audience in January 2010, only 11 days after becoming Virginia’s Governor, when he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. When recently asked if he would be willing to become the Republican Vice presidential candidate in 2012, McDonnell said yes, though he was not actively seeking the job. So, despite the fact that running in 2012 would interfere with the end of his term as Virginia Governor, there is at least some chance that McDonnell may not wait for 2016 to step onto the national stage.
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“McDonnell’s business sense makes him the best fit for Attorney General, they say.” by Michael Hardy. Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 14, 2005.
“Attorney general says amendment wouldn’t hurt unmarried people” by Michael Hardy. Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 15, 2006.
“Offshore drilling could be issue in ’09 governor’s race” by Jim Nolan and Jeff Schapiro. Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 14, 2008.
“Faces of 2010: Gov. McDonnell plans a bolder second year” by Tyler Whitley and Olympia Meola. Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 26, 2010.
“McDonnell seeks to end public broadcasting funding” by Olympia Meola. Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 16, 2010.
“Senate backs McDonnell on transportation financing” by Jim Nolan. Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 8, 2011-02-12
“McDonnell’s approval at 51%; Obama’s at 44.2%” by Tyler Whitley and Olympia Meola. Richmond Times Dispatch, January 12, 2011.