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McDonnell hints of being vetted for VP

Virginia governor, now campaigning with Romney, cited in handicapping

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Though Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has fallen out of the top tier in some pundits' rankings for potential vice-presidential picks, he signaled recently that he might be getting a fresh look from the one person who ultimately matters — Mitt Romney.

As recently as last month, Mr. McDonnell said he was not being vetted by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mr. Romney's campaign, but subtly changed his tune in a public statement this week.

Appearing in Sterling at a campaign stop with Mr. McDonnell on Wednesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney did not let anything definite slip about his potential running mate, but the two appeared to enjoy an easy rapport as they walked onstage after an introduction from Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II.

"This president is out of touch, out of time, and it's time for a new president," Mr. McDonnell said. "I am so glad that Gov. Romney has spent all of this time in Virginia. He is [a] man who will help restore the American Dream."

Though Mr. McDonnell gained some unwanted attention from the legislature's controversial law passed this session that will require women to undergo ultrasound imaging before they have an abortion, he has rebounded somewhat, said Jessica Taylor, senior analyst/reporter for the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

"He remains a strong leader from a swing state; he's only limited to one term there. Clearly, he's likely in the mix," she said. "I think either way, he is going to remain an important surrogate."

Indeed, Mr. Romney's team invites Mr. McDonnell to all of his campaign events in the state and the governor attends as many as his schedule will allow, said spokesman J. Tucker Martin. He has also been invited to a number of events outside the state. For example, he attended a donor retreat in Utah over the weekend that included conservative luminaries such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Karl Rove, a former adviser to George W. Bush.

Virginia is not only a critical state for the presidential election, but is also playing host to the marquee U.S. Senate race between former governors George Allen and Tim Kaine, ensuring Mr. Romney and Mr. McDonnell will be on the stump together quite often between now and Nov. 6.

Appearing on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program earlier this week, Mr. McDonnell declined to definitively comment on whether he is being vetted by Mr. Romney's campaign.

"I'm not discussing the vice-presidential vetting process," he said on the broadcast. "You can address those questions to the Romney campaign."

Host Mark Segraves then pointed out that the governor's answer was different from his previous one — that he was not being vetted.

"Well, there was no vetting going on," Mr. McDonnell replied. "Now, apparently there's vetting going on, and I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about it, so I'll let the mystery novelists continue writing whatever they choose to write. I'm working on governing Virginia [and] helping elect a new chief executive officer of the United States because we have a horrible lack of leadership in Washington on everything from debt to deficit to energy to spending and jobs. That's my goal, and I'll let the Romney campaign talk any further."

Ms. Taylor cautioned not to read too much into Mr. McDonnell's rhetorical shift.

"His comments aren't anything [different] than other people possibly in the mix are saying as well," she said.

The Hill's GOP12 blog put Mr. McDonnell at No. 6 in its vice-presidential rankings in April. In National Journal's "Veepstake Power Rankings" for this month, Mr. McDonnell was ranked eighth. He topped the National Journal list in March, before fallout from the difficult General Assembly session began to take hold and drop him to third in April and ninth in May. The first set of National Journal rankings in February had Mr. McDonnell ranked second behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who is now fifth — demonstrating the often-futile exercise of trying to handicap vice-presidential selections.

For example, few predicted that Arizona Sen. John McCain would plucked former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin out of her state to run with him in 2008, or that Bill Clinton would select fellow southerner Al Gore in 1992 and violate the tenet that a candidate should do their best to "balance the ticket" along ideological or geographical lines.

"I mean, this is Washington's favorite parlor game," Ms. Taylor said. "As soon as the nomination's done, we'll move onto the next shiny object. ... I think most people are going to be voting for the top of the ticket or against the top of the ticket."

Despite persistent prodding on the question, Mr. McDonnell said he thought the next time people would hear from him on the topic would be his congratulating whoever is selected as the vice-presidential nominee.

He laughed when asked whether that might be a self-congratulation, and said he intends to do everything he can to make sure Mr. Romney is elected.

"I told Gov. Romney anything I can do to help him, I'm going to do," he said.

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