Yesterday I had a chance to speak to Virginia governor Bob McDonnell about the outlook for Mitt Romney in his home state.
NRO: How worried are you about [former Virginia congressman and Constitution Party presidential nominee] Virgil Goode? I’ve heard from a few folks on the ground who are worried about him taking a few percentage points in Virginia. As you guys coordinate the Virginia effort, is he on your radar screen or anything you’re worried about?
McDonnell: First we’ve got to see if he qualifies. He got a lot of signatures, but now the signatures have to be checked. As you know, other presidential candidates got signatures, but they didn’t qualify. We have to take it one step at a time and see whether those signatures are valid and if they get him to qualify. Secondly, people in Virginia understand how important this election is.
Virgil’s a good man. I served with him in the [Virginia State] Senate. He’s got generally good, conservative values. But there’s no way he’s got a chance for him to be competitive or to win. So a vote for Virgil Goode is a vote that goes toward electing Barack Obama. People in Virginia are realistic enough to know that. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that all conservative, libertarian, independent, and clear-thinking Democrats understand that Mitt Romney is the only guy who has the ability to replace Barack Obama and get our country out of debt and back to work.
NRO: Are you seeing anything in your poll numbers that say “we need to focus on this particular issue” or “we need to focus on this region”?
McDonnell: There are clearly regional issues, but it all starts with the overall message. The message is that 42 months of 8 percent unemployment and $16 trillion in debt and no energy policy, and doubling gas prices, is unacceptable. The president has tried, and the president has failed. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. So we need a change in leadership. Mitt Romney’s vision and record in Massachusetts and in the private sector tells you this is a problem solver who can actually get things done. Doesn’t make excuses, doesn’t blame people. Very much the opposite of how Barack Obama has governed.
There are regional issues. Hampton Roads for instance, support for the veterans, is something we’re going to stress down there. We have 350,000 active-duty military, 850,000 veterans. It’s a very important voting block. I think Romney’s got the best ideas overall to support the men and women in uniform now by reversing sequestration, where Barack Obama has been a bystander, and for taking care of the veterans long-term.
In northern Virginia, they’re very concerned about technology and entrepreneurship and being able to start up small businesses, which has been the lifeblood of the explosion up there. Part of his plan for middle-class growth is to promote small-business development. I expect him to talk about that this week, and I think that’s the message that will win Virginia for Mitt Romney.
NRO: You mentioned high unemployment — the Wall Street Journal suggested today that in some swing states with Republican governors, like yourself in Virginia and John Kasich in Ohio, the unemployment rate is lower, which may be helping keep Obama’s numbers up in those states. The message that “jobs aren’t being created, the country is going in the wrong direction” may not resonate as much in Virginia, where things are going better. That may be good for you, but doesn’t that complicate Romney’s task?
McDonnell: That’s a good question, and it really comes down to what policies and who do the voters think are responsible for those lower unemployment rates. In fact, in Republican-governed states, the unemployment rate is a full percentage point lower than in it is Democratic-governed states. Maryland and Virginia are both states that border D.C., but Maryland’s got a 7 percent unemployment rate with Democratic leadership. We’ve got a 5.9 percent unemployment rate. There’s a lot going on that is different, with pro-growth policies to keep taxes and regulation low, in Republican-governed states that I think are accounting for that difference. Twelve out of the fifteen states that have the best climates for business, and seven out of the ten states with the lowest unemployment rates, have Republican governors.
So I think it’s going to be a real hard sell for Barack Obama to say, “Well, it’s all my policies, my bailouts, my stimulus, that’s what’s creating the difference.” It’s not. Voters are smart.
NRO: Completely coincidental that all of Obama’s national policies are only working in those Republican states, huh?
McDonnell: The evidence is undeniable!
NRO: How does the Virginia Senate race look to you? It always seems to be within two points one way or the other. How likely is it that Republicans win the presidential but lose the Senate race, or vice versa?
McDonnell: I think there’s very little opportunity for a split ticket, because the ideas and policies that Barack Obama and Tim Kaine are running on are pretty much the same: more spending, big government, absolute unwillingness to take on entitlement spending — which everybody in America knows you have to do to get us out of debt and get spending under control. Conversely, you’ve got George Allen and Mitt Romney talking about the opportunity society, promoting small business, using all of our energy resources. They’re so joined together on the issues, I don’t see any ticket-splitting at all.
The only caveat to that is that people in Virginia know Tim Kaine and George Allen well. They’ve both been governors, they’ve both been around for a long time. They know the president and Mitt Romney primarily from the TV, maybe they’ve shaken one of their hands. To the extent that those longstanding personal relationships, or their recollection of how they served as governors, is important, you can see a little bit of a differential there. But overall, if Mitt Romney wins, George Allen wins.
NRO: Have you seen any impact from the Paul Ryan pick on Romney’s numbers in Virginia? Any noticeable impact on any demographics?
McDonnell: I’ve said for a long time, people don’t elect vice presidents, they elect presidents. The vice president can potentially hurt a ticket, or he can be a good complimentary messenger, but ultimately his role is to help you govern. I don’t think any of us expected a major change from that one.
What Paul Ryan brings to the ticket is a seriousness about the incredible challenges facing America. We’re broke, and 23 million people don’t have jobs. That is a serious situation for the greatest country on earth. Paul Ryan is a serious guy who’s had a plan for balancing the budget, for reforming Medicaid and Medicare and reforming entitlements. Everything that Barack Obama doesn’t have the courage to take on, Paul Ryan’s had a plan. Even though some people haven’t liked all of the details, he’s had a plan to get there! So I think he helps immensely with that.
I think a very good messenger to young voters as well — the people who have done worst in the Obama economy, coming out of college, deep in debt, can’t find a job. I think Paul Ryan relates to them well. So I expect a bit of a messenger advantage with him on the ticket, and I can’t wait for that Biden and Ryan debate.
NRO: I realize the standard answer is always, “I’m focused on the job I have,” but in January 2014, you’ll be joining the ranks of the unemployed, or need something to do. So do you ever think about working in a Romney cabinet or an administration position someday?
McDonnell: You’ve got to get him elected first! And as I’ve said a zillion times, I love being governor of Virginia. It’s the great honor of my life, to have the same job as [Thomas] Jefferson and [Patrick] Henry. I’ve got a big agenda next year on education and transportation and government reform and other things I want to get done. And as I learned as a young lieutenant in the Army, “Take the hill in front of you first, before you try to take the hill behind it, or you end up not doing a good job.”
NRO: I notice there’s a Senate race in Virginia in 2014. Your schedule is free then.
McDonnell: I don’t know if I would want to join a club that has a 14 percent approval rating. We have to turn the country around first.