- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell is candid about his gubernatorial ambitions, but he insists he is not taking his current job for granted.

“I’m obviously looking to run for governor in 2009, but the best way I can do that is to demonstrate to the citizens of Virginia that I’m a competent, effective and caring attorney general,” Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, told The Washington Times.

It’s too early to tell who Mr. McDonnell’s competition will be for the Republican nomination, but Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has hinted he is interested. Others speculate that former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, the last Republican to occupy the governor’s mansion, might want his old job back.

Mr. McDonnell, who represented Virginia Beach in the House of Delegates from 1992 to 2005, knows that campaigning to be the commonwealth’s 71st governor will mean raising his public profile.

He has held a statewide food drive, persuaded warring Republican factions in the General Assembly to negotiate a transportation deal, and traveled to voter-rich Northern Virginia nearly 100 times.

“It’s been a hectic period around here,” said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin.

A lawyer who served 21 years active and reserve in the Army and retired as a lieutenant colonel, Mr. McDonnell yesterday dedicated his latest project, a “Wall of Honor,” for Virginians who have “lost their lives serving in the global war on terrorism.”

Funded by corporate donations, the wall will stand in the main lobby of the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond. It is decorated with photos and biographies of 139 Virginians killed in the fight against terrorism going back to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Mr. McDonnell may have elevated his profile the most with his stance on gun issues and an unexpected beef with fellow Republican Michael R. Bloomberg.

The feud between Mr. McDonnell, 52, and the New York City mayor erupted after New York City officials sued 27 gun dealers, including six in Virginia, for selling guns to undercover agents through illegal “straw purchases” by which one person legally fills out a form and buys a gun for someone else.

Last month, Mr. McDonnell let it be known that he warned Mr. Bloomberg in a letter that a new Virginia law effective July 1 would prohibit New York from sending undercover agents into the state to purchase guns illegally.

Good move, said Republican strategist Craig Shirley.

“The thing with Bloomberg was great politics,” he said. “Bashing Manhattan from Richmond is always good politics.”

Critics said Mr. McDonnell was trying to make inroads with Virginia’s gun-toting groups — a constituency that hasn’t always embraced him.

“He could have done that probably through a telephone call or a letter,” said Sen. Robert Creigh Deeds, Bath County Democrat who surprised many by winning the National Rifle Association’s endorsement before falling to Mr. McDonnell in the 2005 attorney general race by 360 votes. “The war of press releases was a blatant political move on his part.”

Mr. McDonnell’s support of the 1993 one-handgun-a-month law lost him the NRA’s backing.

Earlier this month, he provided the legal advice needed to close a loophole in Virginia gun laws that allowed Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho to buy two handguns despite a court order indicating he had been ordered to get mental health counseling.

Since taking office as attorney general in January 2006, Mr. McDonnell advised the state police to close the records of people licensed to carry concealed weapons after newspaper reports printed the names and addresses of Virginians with concealed-handgun permits, and he ruled that school boards cannot prohibit the possession of firearms at board meetings held off school grounds.

He has even won praise from the NRA.

“We are a forward-looking organization and he’s been a great attorney general,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. “We will leave it at that.”

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