Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has been working away from the spotlight to elect Republican candidates this cycle, and his efforts could pay dividends if he chooses to run for higher office.
McDonnell has traveled around the country to appear at fundraising events for a dozen gubernatorial candidates, four Senate candidates and every major Republican campaign committee, according to a spokesman for the governor. He’s raised some $2.5 million for the beneficiaries through his appearances.
In Virginia, McDonnell has raised money and campaigned for nine of the House incumbents and challengers in the state. The only two Virginia Republicans he hasn’t raised money for are Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Eric Cantor, both of whom hold safe GOP seats.
McDonnell’s efforts haven’t generated the kind of White House speculation that’s surrounded New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) campaigning this cycle, despite their similarities.
Both men ran effective campaigns to win back governors' mansions from Democrats in 2009, but Christie’s star has risen faster in their first year in office.
Other former Virginia governors, including George Allen (R) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), launched successful bids for the upper chamber. At various points in their career, both Warner and Allen mulled presidential runs.
Warner was elected to the Senate in 2008, and Allen may run again for the Senate in 2012.
McDonnell is unlikely to run for president in 2012, but could be eyed as a vice presidential candidate in order to win the crucial state of Virginia. President Obama won the commonwealth by six percentage points over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.
Businessman Keith Fimian, who’s challenging Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), said he’s gotten “tons” of help from McDonnell.
“It’s been great,” he said, noting the governor held two fundraisers for him in the last two months of the campaign. “Bob’s a very busy guy. He’s in high demand, so we never expected to have him come more than twice.”
Car dealer Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye’s (D-Va.) challenger, considers McDonnell an old friend.
“He’s been the featured guest at my birthday party last year in the primary, which is wonderful,” he said. “He’s introduced me to some of his friends. He’s been helpful.”
The governor also raised money for Rigell, recorded a robo-call and appeared at a Monday-night get-out-the-vote rally with him in Virginia Beach.
“I don’t think his presence in the governor’s mansion in and of itself is the deciding factor, but it’s a clear indication that people are ready to trust Republican leadership that has clear principles and has the right ideas,” he said.
Rigell said he even occasionally referenced McDonnell in his stump speeches. “He’s setting a wonderful example at the state level as governor for really what needs to happen in Washington.”
State Sen. Robert Hurt, Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-Va.) Republican challenger, has also benefited from the governors’ help.
Hurt called McDonnell’s involvement “a huge asset to our campaign.”