McDonnell Marooned?

He made privatization of Virginia’s liquor stores one of his top priorities, though the state legislature doesn’t look like it will back him up on this one.

He’s been a check on Washington, D.C.’s spectacularly incompetent Metro transportation system, which runs into the Virginia suburbs. He worked to defeat an absurdly union-friendly contract for Metro’s Big Dig-esque Silver Line project. And instead of tossing gobs of money at public transportation, he’s focused instead on expanding road construction and easing gridlock.

None of this is to say McDonnell is a panacea. Conservatives will point to his caving on a voter ID requirement and his installation of a toll booth on the Virginia-North Carolina border, among other problems.

But we’re electing a vice president, not a spiritual leader. And given Mitt Romney’s pitfalls and the nature of the veep job, McDonnell fits the part nicely.

Romney’s biggest weakness is his persona as a wealthy, out-of-touch, Sherman McCoy-style businessman from Bostonian parlors. McDonnell brings a military record and a southern sensibility to the ticket. To sound like a Washington political consultant for a second, he looks presidential.

Romney’s second biggest weakness is his inability to connect with voters. This presents a conundrum for Romney’s team. They need someone who can jazz up the race. But they also can’t have the veep overshadowing their main attraction, as Chris Christie surely would. (As Molly Ball wondered, “Is Anyone Boring Enough to Be Mitt Romney’s Running Mate?” We should also ask whether anyone is too boring to be Romney’s running mate, e.g., Rob Portman.) McDonnell isn’t terribly exciting, but he has a one-on-one social ease that Romney lacks.

Romney’s third biggest weakness is a single number: 47. Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in terms of job creation during Romney’s time as governor, a fact the Obama campaign is already printing on banners and flying behind airplanes over beaches. Virginia is creating jobs quickly under Bob McDonnell and lets Romney tout a modern example of successful conservative governance. It forces Democrats to confront the success of spending cuts at the local level.

Hanging gloomily over all this is the fact that Virginia is now a swing state – come November, maybe the swing state. McDonnell’s approval ratings have fallen recently and it’s still not clear whether he would help Romney in the Old Dominion. But he is still one of the most popular governors in the country and a majority of Virginians approve of his job performance.

The vice presidency is a tricky job. It requires executive experience and energy on the campaign trail. But it also demands the patience to deal with being secondary to the president. It’s easy to see Bob McDonnell fitting neatly into that hole. Given his unique challenges, Romney should reconsider his decision to cross McDonnell’s name off the list.