POLITICS

Virginia GOP complicates life for Gov. McDonnell

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Politics,Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's national political profile has never been higher -- or in greater need of mending, thanks to his fellow statehouse Republicans.

McDonnell stepped onto the national stage this year as head of the Republican Governors Association and is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney on the party's 2012 ticket.

While Republican eyes around the country turn to him, McDonnell finds himself scrambling to distance himself from other Virginia Republicans, particularly social conservatives, who forced McDonnell to deal with thorny issues like abortion, defeated many of his budget amendments and, in a move that generated negative national attention, rejected a judicial nominee because he's gay.

"Bob McDonnell is now a national figure, so all of the sudden things that weren't controversial became controversial," said Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield. "That's why I was so aggravated by the session. We couldn't get out the good news."

Even while demurring at the suggestion that Romney may need him to help win battleground Virginia, McDonnell has been touring the state and running campaign-style ads touting how well Virginia has done under his watch. He can brag about an unemployment rate well below the national average and his success in balancing the state budget without a tax increase.

But earlier this year, McDonnell had to deal with national ridicule from late-night comics when the General Assembly sent him legislation requiring women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure before getting an abortion. McDonnell tried to soften the measure while insisting his pro-life credentials were unimpeachable, but his poll ratings dropped.

This week, General Assembly Republicans defeated many of McDonnell's budget amendments and scolded him for meddling with a spending plan lawmakers had crafted. They then recaptured national attention by rejecting a gay judicial nomination, Tracy Thorne-Begland, forcing McDonnell to denounce it as "disappointing and unacceptable" without appearing to support gay rights.

Democrats were gleeful at McDonnell's discomfort.

"The diversion and fascination with offensive and divisive social issues were devastating to McDonnell's national ambitions, and they did not serve the best interest of Virginians," said state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran.

Del. Bob Marshall, the Manassas Republican who led the charge against Thorne-Begland and who himself is running for the U.S. Senate, went so far as to suggest McDonnell's political aspirations were thwarting conservative gains in Virginia.

"It was either silence and kill things behind the scenes," said Marshall, "or a full reverse."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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