- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has been working to raise his national profile without spending lots of time outside the commonwealth, out-of-state travel records released by his office show.

In the first six months of this year, the Republican governor left Virginia eight times for politically oriented trips, according to records obtained by The Washington Times. He traveled six times for either fundraising purposes or events related to his position as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association - once to attend a retreat in Baltimore for the House Republican Policy Committee and most recently to Vail, Colo., to attend a seminar hosted by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

Of the 35 out-of-state trips Mr. McDonnell took, 22 were to either the District or Maryland - and he was back in Virginia before bedtime for the vast majority of them. He traveled four times to New York City, twice to Florida and also to Georgia, Houston, Illinois, St. Louis and Seattle. The governor left the country twice, taking an 11-day marketing trip to Asia and an overnight trip to France to watch the Paris Air Show and meet with business prospects.

Mr. McDonnell was out-of-state for all or part of 61 days and spent 26 nights away, out of roughly 180 days in the first half of this year. Spokeswoman Taylor Thornley said he tries to keep his travel to a minimum.

“The governor spends as little time out of the state as possible, and comes back as quickly as possible,” she said. “And the majority of that limited time out of state is spent promoting job creation and economic development in the commonwealth in his official role as governor.”

Garren Shipley, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, said it is “not surprising” that Mr. McDonnell would be called out of state so often.

“He has a proven record of success here in Virginia, and people around the country are taking notice,” he said.

Ms. Thornley also pointed out that Mr. McDonnell’s office has declined invitations to 195 political events since January.

“The governor is clearly in demand nationally, but he keeps his out-of-state travel to a fraction of what he could be doing,” she said. “His sole focus is Virginia.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia declined to comment for this article.

Mr. McDonnell’s office handed over the governor’s travel records upon request - perhaps trying to avoid the criticism created during Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine’s final year in office, when he initially refused to release a schedule of his travel and activities related to his chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

After Mr. Kaine was elected DNC chairman in January 2009, Republicans increasingly accused him of breaking a pledge to limit his party work to evenings and weekends.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Kaine, who is now running for a Senate seat in Virginia, said at the time the governor’s office adhered to a policy set by previous administrations and would not release any details of Mr. Kaine’s personal schedule because of security concerns and privacy issues.

But in response to mounting pressure, the former governor released the travel records midyear and pledged to release them monthly until the end of his term.

The records showed that from March 5 through June 2009, Mr. Kaine left Virginia on all or part of 30 days for DNC business, including trips to Boston, California and New York. He traveled for the DNC on half of the days in June. Mr. McDonnell was out-of-state on all or part of six days for RGA business during the same time period this year

Still, the comparison can only go so far, considering serving as vice chairman of a governors association is usually considered a less demanding role than leading a political party. For Mr. McDonnell, the position could give him a way to raise a national profile without demanding excessive time away from his duties as governor.

While Mr. McDonnell shot down speculation last fall that he was intending to run for president, questions remain about his ambitions after his term is complete in 2013. And there remains the possibility of being selected next year as running mate of the GOP presidential nominee.

Democrat strategist Paul Goldman called Mr. McDonnell the “leading choice” of vice president for nearly any of the current GOP candidates. The governor has in his favor his popularity, his Catholicism, his military background and, most of all, the fact that he’s from a crucial swing state, Mr. Goldman said.

“He is perfectly situated for a Bachmann, for a Romney, for a Pawlenty,” Mr. Goldman said.