Mini-SOTU: McDonnell gets national platform
In office as governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia for 11 days, Bob McDonnell added another role to his new duties: spokesman for the GOP following President Barrack Obama's January 27 State of the Union address.
When McDonnell was invited to provide the Republican response last week, political pundit Larry Sabato warned that the president and the pageantry of the State of the Union in Congress were a tough act to follow.
Perhaps McDonnell heeded that warning. His response in the House of Delegates chamber, surrounded by a diverse group of supporters who applauded and looked at him adoringly, prompted NBC political commentator David Gregory to note that it looked like a "miniature" State of the Union.
"From a political standpoint, Governor McDonnell gave probably the best State of the Union response I've seen," says Charlottesville political blogger Jamelle Bouie, "and I've been watching them since high school."
Bouie contrasts McDonnell's performance to last year's widely panned response by up-and-coming Republican star Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
"While the optics were very good, the actual substance left much to be desired," says Bouie, noting that McDonnell's speech was standard Republican playbook written in advance of Obama's address, making it difficult to actually respond to the president's speech.
McDonnell was surrounded by supporters that included an African-American woman and Asian man. "It's obviously intentional and kind of funny," says Bouie.
"It might be a little inaccurate as far as who voted for him," Bouie continues. "Exit polls showed they were over 35 and almost entirely white. The optics are great, but not really accurate."
McDonnell drew some heat from the Democrats for staging his response to a Republican-only audience, Politico reports. "This just strikes us as odd," said DNC Communications director Brad Woodhouse. "A man who has billed himself as a bipartisan problem solver– is giving a speech to respond to the President's State of the Union address in the House Chamber in Virginia's Capitol to an invitation only crowd (i.e., Republicans)."
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin told Politico that the Virginia Democratic legislative leadership would be invited.
And even some Republicans didn't get emails inviting them to the Capitol until 6pm January 27, Martin tells the Hook, describing an "ad hoc" invitational process. "The Democratic leadership was invited," he says, "and none attended."
McDonnell invoked Thomas Jefferson twice in his 12-minute response, and like Obama, led with jobs as the most important government priority.
"Bob McDonnell did well enough that in the future," predicts Bouie, "he'll probably be on a short list for Republican national office."
Updated at 3:40pm.