Welcome to the age of Bob (McDonnell)

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Opinion Zone,Norman Leahy

Democratic strategist Paul Goldman has bene around Virginia politics long enough to know how things get done. In my many discussions with him, I've not only learned valuable history, but, what is likely to happen next.  That's why one of his recent emails is worth close consideration, because in it, Paul posits that we are witnessing the dawning of the Bob McDonnell era in Virginia. Here’s how Goldman frames it:

In today’s Washington Post poll, Governor McDonnell leaps to become the state’s best liked politician, based on approval rating, topping Senator Warner who is closely followed by Senator Webb.

This is the first time in nearly a generation that a Republican Governor has taken the top spot.

As I have written before, this helps increase McDonnell’s chances of being on the GOP national ticket next year, which directly impacts the Kaine vs Allen race [as I wrote again yesterday, the failure of Allen to identify more with McDonnell tells me his team isn't ready for prime time] and of course it could lead to McDonnell challenging Warner in 2014 since I am confident the President gets re-elected right now.

But the big news: Could the era of McDonnell, started with his leading the biggest GOP sweep of statewide offices in history, be in full swing?

McDonnell’s popular appeal would swing the Democratic Senate to the GOP this November.

Democrats need to accept the fact that among Virginians, the kind of attacks made by the Deeds brain trust against McDonnell in 2009 – and still repeated on too many Democratic blogs – is backfiring and for good reason.

Has the Bob McDonnell era started here in VA politics?

It is beginning to look that way.

The attacks on McDonnell never took hold because they looked (and were) forced. No one, except the faithful and the Washington Post, wanted a debate over McDonnell's decades-old thesis on social issues. The economy was the thing, and on that issue, McDonnell excelled.

But it’s interesting to think whether we are, indeed, on the cusp of a McDonnell era. That would mean we’re exiting the Mark Warner era, where Virginia was moving forward, from what we were never sure and to where was none of our business. 

This was preceded by the Allen era, where the soft teeth of whiny liberals were going to be knocked down throats and "Thomas Jefferson" was the password to every backroom Republican smoker.

All of this was preceded by things that happened before the invention of the Internet, so they never really happened. Chuck Robb? Jerry Baliles? John Dalton? Sorry, those names don't ring a bell.

There’s much to recommend Paul’s thesis — McDonnell is, to varying degrees, making himself a national figure and a possible 2012 ticket mate for someone. He’s got a formidable apparatus in place should he decide to make a nationwide splash and, hey, people like him. That’s probably the most important point of all in his favor.

Could McDonnell tip the balance in the Senate race? Possibly so. But the far bigger deciding factor is President Obama. If he does well, Tim Kaine does well. If he sinks, Tim is back to teaching at the University of Richmond.

Paul touches on this, but the talk of a McDonnell era does reflect on the last Republican titan — George Allen. Allen is trying to make his comeback. early signs and conventional wisdom say he’ll be successful, at least so far as winning the GOP senatorial nomination. But if Allen owes part of his victory to Bob McDonnell, that will be a profound shift.

Perhaps I’ve seen some of this already…

During the winter at a reception in the Governor’s Mansion, some of us wondered at why we were there. The popular theory: it was a coming out party for another of the guests: George Allen.

(We interviewed Paul Goldman on “The Score” radio show, where he picked McDonnell as his dark horse candidate for the GOP vice presidential nomination. That interview can be heard here).

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