Romney auditions Virginia's McDonnell for veep job

Steve Contorno

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell gets his turn Wednesday to audition for the coveted position of Mitt Romney's running mate as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee visits Old Dominion to continue his ongoing tryout of possible vice presidential candidates.

McDonnell will appear alongside Romney twice during the former Massachusetts governor's two-day swing through the state -- a fundraiser Wednesday night at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington and an official campaign stop Thursday afternoon at Crofton Industries in Portsmouth -- just days before President Obama officially launches his campaign in Richmond. Romney is also hosting a Wednesday morning rally at Exhibit Edge in Chantilly without McDonnell.

Romney held similar events with Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, two others in the running for the veep job, fueling speculation that his campaign is vetting and testing possible running mates. McDonnell, a popular governor from a critical battleground state, certainly is in the mix, and he told a radio station last week "if the nominee says, 'You can help my party and the country,' of course I'd consider it."

Many past presidential nominees go through the exercise of publicly auditioning their candidates to see how they respond to the exposure, said Joel Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University and author of the book "The Modern American Vice Presidency." That McDonnell is one of the first bodes well for his chances, but Goldstein still labels him an underdog because he is a relatively young and unknown executive.

"Before he's picked, people have to come to the conclusion that this is one of the people in the Republican Party who people generally think would be a good president, and I don't think there's a general perception of that," Goldstein said.

McDonnell's stock also took a hit after a tumultuous legislative session forced him to weigh in on controversial women's health issues at a time when Romney is struggling to convince female voters. McDonnell recently began a public-image makeover by airing non-election campaign ads aimed at changing the conversation back toward the economic issues that made him a more popular figure.

"It's a shameful attempt to give himself a face lift," said Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. "It's an audition piece."

Publicly campaigning for the job is a risky route for candidates because it exudes desperation, Goldstein said.

McDonnell's camp played down his interest in the job, but still sounded like the willing surrogate.

"We don't spend any time thinking about the chances of a hypothetical phone call," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. "We do spend a lot of time thinking about the fact that under this president unemployment has hung over 8 percent for 38 straight months, gas prices have doubled and the national debt has exploded."

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