There is a next for Bob McDonnell

bob mcdonnellSo you’re Bob McDonnell, and you woke up Monday morning as you did every morning the past 21 months, facing the possibility of two years in federal prison.

You left office in January 2014 with surprisingly strong approval ratings for a governor facing corruption charges, but that was in part because the charges didn’t look at the time like they would stick.

People were throwing around your name as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, assuming the messy corruption thing would go away.

For that matter, if it went away quickly enough, maybe you run for the U.S. Senate that fall.

Mark Warner, as it turned out, was quite vulnerable in 2014. Imagine him going up against another popular former governor.

2014 didn’t happen, 2016 didn’t happen. The conviction happened after a trial in which your attorneys’ strategy was to throw your wife under the bus.

The appeals process couldn’t have played out any worse. It seemed almost certain until the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to hear his case, and even then it appeared at best to be a 50-50 prospect that McDonnell would avoid prison time.

And then the Supreme Court threw out the convictions. Even leaving open the possibility that federal prosecutors can bring new charges, that would seem unlikely after the smackdown the unanimous High Court offered in its ruling and opinion.

The worst, in other words, seems behind McDonnell.

What’s next?

And, oh, yes, there is a next in the political story of Bob McDonnell. Count on that.

No doubt, he has some reputation reclaiming to do, but he also has plenty of time to do it. McDonnell is sure to be a favorite on the GOP chicken-dinner circuit, getting paid big bucks to speak about what you have to assume will be presented as a politically-motivated prosecution, a forced exile, if you will.

McDonnell, to conservatives, is the guy who faced down the full weight of the Obama Justice Department and lived to tell the tale.

And he happened to leave office, even with the taint of possible prosecution hanging over his head, above water in terms of voter approval.

The next political race on McDonnell’s radar has to be 2018. He can play a role in 2017 by stumping for whoever Republicans nominate to run on the statewide ticket, raising his own profile with general-election voters.

2018 can be an interesting year in Virginia politics. The Senate seat currently held by Tim Kaine comes up for re-election, though whether Kaine will be around to run for a second term is very much at question.

Kaine is being talked about as being on the very short list for Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic Party national ticket.

With Clinton a heavy favorite to win in November, that would open up Kaine’s seat for appointment by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in advance of a special election in November 2017.

The heavy hitters on both sides are currently aiming their sights on the state ticket for November 2017, so it would be interesting to see what would happen if Kaine’s seat comes open a year early, with the caveat that the term that you’d win in November 2017 only lasts a year.

The Republican candidate bench is deep, though with guys whose resume claim to fame is losing a close statewide race (Ed Gillespie, Mark Obenshain, Ken Cuccinelli).

McDonnell is 2-0 in statewide races, so his return to the good graces of the GOP electorate would hardly be Richard Nixon resurrecting his career after losing the presidency and a governor’s race.

Progressives reading this are no doubt snickering at the thought of McDonnell being at all a legitimate candidate, but this isn’t even among the wide circle of strange things that can happen.

Think Oliver North, also convicted in a federal court, his sentence overturned, who narrowly lost in the 1994 U.S. Senate race against a popular former governor, Chuck Robb, mainly because former GOP attorney general Marshall Coleman ran as an independent and split the Republican vote.

Bottom line: there is a next for Bob McDonnell. Count on that.

Column by Chris Graham

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