Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell may not have been linked before, but these two gubernatorial candidates are becoming quite a duo — mentioned together in reams of news stories and the subject of endless punditry. In a sparse year for elections they are at the center of two exciting and much-discussed races. Can they return the GOP to power? Does New Jersey or Virginia look more inviting?
This week they made a joint appearance in Washington, D.C., before the Republican Jewish Coalition. They don’t look much alike: McConnell, a former high school football star and Army veteran, is slight and Christie is not. Christie is the more gregarious of the two. But they have much in common. Both are “law enforcement guys,” as Christie put it. (Christie was a corruption-busting U.S. Attorney and McDonnell a well-regarded state attorney general.) And both have an unflinchingly conservative economic message that seeks to address the issues voters care most about.
McDonnell took the podium first. He didn’t waste time making the connection to another gubernatorial election year — 1993. He reminded the crowd that was the year when Christie Todd Whitman and George Allen, coming off a Republican defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton in 1992, swept to wins to be followed in 1994 by Newt Gingrich, the Contract with America, and the shift in control of Congress which remained in Republican hands until 2006.
“A lot of people would like to see that scenario repeat,” McDonnell told the crowd. And he added a bit of Virginia lore; since 1972 the party that won the White House lost the Virginia gubernatorial race the next year. (He joked that nevertheless he “didn’t drive around with a Barack Obama bumper sticker on my car.”)
McDonnell in the months he has spent on the trail, unopposed in his own party and largely out of the fray, has come into his own as a retail politician. He is more buoyant and fluid than six months ago, projecting energy and confidence that were less evident before he became one-half of the biggest political duo this year. As a practiced retail candidate he knew his audience — mentioning his trip to Israel, his efforts to form an Israel friendship group after his return, and his friendship and political alliances with his neighbor Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress.
But the meat of his remarks was aimed at explaining what his campaign is all about. He is running, he explained, a campaign focused on “solving problems that affect the quality of life issues people care about.” He ticked them off — education, energy, transportation and making “government run more like a business.” This, he contrasted to what we have seen coming out of Washington — card check, cap-and-trade, a stimulus plan filled with “unfunded mandates” for the states, and nationalized health care. In short, while not running against Barack Obama, he is, in large part, running against the liberal Democratic policies which polling shows are not popular, even with an electorate still entranced with Obama.