The Future of the GOP…Bob McDonnell?

As Republicans try to draw comparisons between now and 1994 – just because as that great western philosopher Jon Bon Jovi once said, we gotta hold on to what we got – it starts by drawing comparisons to the VA and NJ races of 1993. When George Allen and Christie Todd Whitman won their respective races, it helped launch the Republican take over the next year, both in momentum and recruitment.

So, we’re keeping an eye on the 2009 Governors races as well, where both candidates (Bob McDonnell in VA, Chris Christie in NJ) have decent leads going into the fall. Granted there’s always a chance of us screwing it up, but at least the way things look now we have a good chance of winning both races. Though in the case of McDonnell, he might be showing us the way for Republicans – and conservative ones at that – to win nationwide.

So sayeth Michael Gerson…

McDonnell is no moderate Republican. He is an unapologetic pro-life, pro-gun fiscal conservative. But as a prospective governor, he is forced to live in the real world of governing — unlike some congressional Republicans who view obstruction as the highest goal of politics. McDonnell’s campaign is a proliferation of 10-point plans — on energy, transportation, crime and economic development. McDonnell cut his political teeth as an intern at the House Republican Policy Committee. He talks with wonkish intensity about gang reduction, drug courts, trade promotion, college access, wine tourism and plans for the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War.

This is not just a matter of personality but of strategy. Virginia elections are won in a mostly suburban crescent that runs from Northern Virginia to Richmond to Virginia Beach, where about 70 percent of voters live. Suburban voters tend to be more focused on quality-of-life issues — education, transportation and crime — than ideological debates. So while Obama’s overreach provides McDonnell with a political opportunity, employing a simplistic anti-government message would not suffice. “People expect government to be efficient — simpler and more user-friendly,” says McDonnell. At another point: “We must make government work better.” The effective Obama backlash will be led by reform-oriented wonks, not ideological arsonists.

National Republicans might learn a stylistic lesson from the Virginia race as well. McDonnell is a conservative, but he is not a rural, us-against-them populist. His roots are suburban. His bearing is military — precise, earnest, respectful and formal. (He wore a coat and tie to shake hands at Famous Anthony’s, a breakfast place in Salem, perhaps a sartorial first at that location.) McDonnell manages to make a conservative case against federal excess without conducting a cultural battle against social elites and city-slickers. Which might be helpful with the city-slicker vote.

Read the whole article, as they say, and maybe take notes as we prepare for war next year.

Or if he loses, forget I said anything.

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