February 4, 2009
To no one's surprise, Virginia attorney general Bob McDonnell announced yesterday that he would resign from his office as of February 20, in order to devote full time to raising funds for his gubernatorial campaign. The announcement, in text and video, is at the Bob McDonnell For Governor Web site: www.bobmcdonnell.com. Since it has been known for several months that Bob McDonnell would be the only major Republican candidate for governor this year, the only question was when he would resign -- not whether. Back in December, J. C. Wilmore speculated on the timing of the announcement, given the various factors to be considered.
I had the pleasure to meet Bob McDonnell for the first time when he came to Staunton on a campaign visit in Oct. 2005, and most recently at a neighborhood beautification project here in town last September. He is a well-educated, experienced, and very decent man, and has all the qualities to make a fine governor. Even though some of the opinion polls show very tight races between McDonnell and any of the three contending Democratic candidates for governor (Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe, or Brian Moran), we have every reason to expect that the margin will improve after the Democrats are finished tearing each other apart this spring.
Of the eleven elected Virginia attorneys general since the late 1940s, all but one (Button) ran for governor at least once, and of these ten, all but one (Marshall Coleman) resigned before his or her term had ended to avoid having the campaign interfere with the official duties. The resignations have come as early as January, and as late as September. Since the early 1970s, only two of those seven candidates (Baliles and Gilmore) actually won the gubernatorial election.
* : Button served two terms as AG but never ran for governor.
! : Coleman remained in office as AG during his campaign for governor, which failed.
This strong historical pattern, in turn, raises the question of whether the current candidates for the position of attorney general have aspirations to higher office: John Brownlee and Ken Cucinelli.
So what about the lieutenant governors? Since that office has relatively few official duties, there has been no need for the men holding that office to resign while they campaign for the number one position. Of the nine lieutenant governors since the early 1970s, four have won the race for governor, and four have lost. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling decided to hold off on a race for governor, letting Bob McDonnell go first. This decision was probably influenced by memories of the sharp battle between John Hager (then lieutenant governor) and Mark Earley (then attorneys general) in the 2001 governor's race. With the GOP weakened after the nomination struggle, Democrat Mark Warner was able to win the election. With any luck (which our side needs), that's what will happen with the Democrats this year.
For historical background, see the Virginia politics page.
[ * Corrected (to ensure proper RSS feed): 11 Mar 2009; originally posted: 04 Feb 2009, 11: 59 PM ]