Chris Graham: Breaking down the McDonnell-Romney endorsement

The cynic’s view could be that Bob McDonnell is jumping on the Mitt Romney bandwagon with his endorsement today of presumptive GOP presidential nomination frontrunner Mitt Romney.

If you believe that Romney is not only the frontrunner but the all-but-declared nominee, then the Virginia governor would be guilty of bandwagon-jumping.

But then there’s this hard bit of reality: Rick Santorum won Iowa, and Public Policy Polling has Newt Gingrich ahead in South Carolina. That leaves Romney with his favored-son win in New Hampshire to buttress his inevitability strategy.

An endorsement from a popular Republican governor in a competitive state could be a big boost for Romney, not only in South Carolina but also heading into Super Tuesday, where the ballot-access issue will play to Romney’s advantage with his chief rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, not on the ballot due to an inexplicable internal campaign breakdown.

And don’t think McDonnell isn’t being strategic on his own behalf. The photogenic conservative, who won Virginia in a landslide in 2009, a year after Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since the civil-rights era to win Virginia, has long been talked about as a possible vice-presidential nominee. If it’s not that, maybe it’s a Cabinet post, or maybe, as we saw with McDonnell’s predecessor, Tim Kaine, an early endorser of Obama who was rewarded for his endorsement with the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, we could see McDonnell slide into a similar role on the GOP side.

Think, then, about what happens if McDonnell leaves Richmond before his term ends. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling becomes governor, giving him a leg up in the 2013 gubernatorial nomination battle brewing between Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Don’t think that the Bolling succession wouldn’t be a key part of the decision-making process, either.

A lot has to happen for this scenario to play out the way I’ve laid it out. First and foremost, Romney needs to be able to win over a still-doubting Republican primary electorate to earn the party’s nomination, and that is far from a foregone conclusion at this point.

The McDonnell endorsement can help tip the scales in Romney’s favor.


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