Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is often touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate next year. On the surface, it's not hard to see why: He's a popular governor of a swing state with lower-than-national-average unemployment, has solid social conservative credentials, and has publicly expressed interest in the job.
But what has he really accomplished?
Here's McDonnell himself, reacting to last night's election results, which secured unified Republican control of state government:
When we took office the unemployment rate stood at 7.2 percent and the Commonwealth faced a combined $6 billion in budget shortfalls. My predecessor, Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, left a proposed $2.2 billion tax hike to "help" close the gap. That was the "welcome basket" waiting for us. Collectively, we faced a crucial moment in the life of our state. How would we address a down economy and a budget crisis?
Here in Richmond we didn't raise taxes and we didn't grow government. Instead, we defeated Tim Kaine's tax hike and reduced state spending to 2006 levels. At the same time, we invested in transportation, higher education and economic development. We didn't buy in to the mistaken belief that you can't prioritize in government.
Sounds awfully swell, doesn't it?
When a politician claims he was able to "invest" in popular programs while reducing spending, and without having raised taxes, chances are he's not telling you the whole truth.
McDonnell sure isn't.
When I look at McDonnell's tenure, I think of one of those football plays we've seen a thousand times—you know, when the offensive line opens up a gaping hole, the ball-carrier breezes into the endzone, and you yell at the TV, "My grandmother could've run through that!"
There's a number of factors at play here. For starters, Virginia has benefited handsomely from the Obama stimulus, with perhaps 37 percent of its recession-triggered budget gap bridged by federal aid. Secondly, Virginia hosts a lot of military bases and installations.
Other states can, of course, say the same thing. But other states don't have Virginia's ace in the hole: namely, Northern Virginia, a cash-rich region that sits right next to the federal government. (Job growth in the state's long-depressed southern region has been a muddle at best.) Lots of federal employees live there—the same federal employees who, many conservatives say, make too much money.
And if they're not working directly for the government, many area residents benefit through generous federal contracting. If you ever find yourself along the corridor between the nation's capital and Dulles Airport, you'd marvel at the sparkling corporate campuses that flank the state route.
Two Northern Virginia countries—Loudon and Fairfax—rank first and second in the nation in income. Leafy suburbs like Great Falls and McLean are planted thick with rich lobbyists; the latter was dubbed in a New Republic article years ago "GOPtopia" for its high volume of big-money Republicans.
In Arlington County, unemployment is below 5 percent. The rest of the country would be forgiven for looking at the figure and finding it faintly ridiculous. The county's bustling economic growth there has been driven in ways Republican say isn't possible: It has largely been an artifact of planning, with new commercial and residential developments functioning as nodes of two public-transportation corridors.
Unsurprisingly, migration to the area is hot and heavy.
Listen to the Wall Street Journal in high dudgeon:
As for the biggest winner, well, our readers won't be surprised to learn that it was Washington, D.C. by a large margin. United Van Lines moved nearly seven families to the federal city last year for every three it moved out. As always when the feds gear up the income redistribution machine, the imperial city and its denizens get a big cut of the action.
This is to say nothing of the region's haute-bobo culture, where credentialed professionals send their children to public schools that are, by dint of the area's sturdy housing market, quasi-private. The talk of the town is "walkability," "green spaces," "sustainability."
These are the very Beltway elites that real-America conservatives have worked themselves into a lather over.
Now, at this point you may have made a mental note about Maryland; after all, that state is on the Potomac, too. Why is unemployment there a full percentage point higher? You may aver that Virginia's tax and regulatory climate is more friendly toward business than is Maryland's—and I won't disagree with you. Such was the case before McDonnell's term.
Don't get me wrong. McDonnell seems like a decent, competent guy.
But the idea that the guy has effected some kind of East-of-the-Mississippi miracle is total bull. His record as governor has benefited inordinately from the kind of people and policies, come 2012, the GOP ticket will be railing against.