McDonnell's response: What to watch for, how to watch it, where to discuss it
In a few hours, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union speech. It will be streamed live online on washingtonpost.com and archived for later viewing, and Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser will analyze and answer questions about both speeches at the end of the night (10 p.m. ET). For now, The Post's Lee Hockstader provides a preview of McDonnell's moment in the spotlight on the excellent PostPartisan blog:
Mild-mannered Bob McDonnell, the newly installed GOP governor of Virginia who went out of his way to praise President Obama during his successful campaign last fall, has been cast in the role of Republican superstar, a savior rivaled at the moment only by Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown. Hand-picked to deliver the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union speech tonight, McDonnell -- telegenic, affable, focused, and conservative -- is, at least for now, an unblemished commodity in his party.
So how will he craft a speech, his 15 minutes of fame, that manages at once to seem constructive, to introduce himself to the American people, and to gloss over the fissures in his own party?
It'll be a tricky balancing act.
Still, he managed something along those lines in his race last fall, playing down a 20-year-old thesis, written while he was a 34-year-old graduate student at Pat Robertson's law school, that was intolerant of working women, homosexuals and others, in favor of a consistent message that emphasized jobs, jobs and jobs. Nothing objectionable there.
A few on the GOP's hard-right fringe griped that McDonnell didn't press the right buttons frequently enough on abortion, states' rights, guns and other red-meat issues. But they came out for McDonnell anyway, and in a recession, his drumbeat on jobs worked to convince moderate and swing voters that he would put the state's best interests ahead of ideology.
Look for McDonnell to hit the jobs theme again tonight, with bows to the private sector, limited government and America's men and women in uniform. (McDonnell's daughter served an Army tour in Iraq.) Look for him to zing Obama just enough that he will generate some presidential buzz for himself (McDonnell in 2016?) while maintaining the calm, reasoned, even-keeled tone and seeming pragmatism that appealed to Virginia's centrist voters.
And then look to him to skedaddle back to Richmond, where so far he has artfully avoided telling Virginians how he intends to close a multi-billion-dollar deficit in the state budget.
Read more from PostPartisan and keep an eye out for its thinkers' and pundits' reactions to both speeches.
Christopher Dean Hopkins
January 27, 2010; 6:11 PM ET
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