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Team of Rivals

Could the governors of Texas and Virginia end up on a national ticket together?

Sep 26, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 02 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Focusing on fiscal responsibility, transportation, higher education, and job creation—that template sounds eerily familiar. It would appear that Perry and McDonnell are very much on the same page.

McDonnell recently got a higher education reform bill through the legislature (again, unanimously) and even got substantial Democratic support for the passage of a $4 billion highway bill.

On these issues, Perry’s been more ambitious but less successful. He tried and failed to get 4,000 miles of new superhighways funded as part of his Trans-Texas Corridor. As for higher education, Perry’s still fighting the good fight. His initiative to get Texas to create a bachelor’s degree costing only $10,000 over four years has yet to become a reality, but it is one of the boldest and most-discussed higher education proposals in the country.

McDonnell clearly relishes the competition with Texas, but that’s largely because he sees it as benefiting everyone. “We think it’s healthy, this competition,” he says. “It’s not dog-eat-dog. We sharpen each other. We make the states better, and therefore we make America better.”

Perry seems to agree. While introducing him at the luncheon for the Virginia GOP, McDonnell again—and this time publicly—reminds Perry that Texas is number two in CNBC’s rankings. Perry can’t let the remark slide, and reminds McDonnell and the rest of the crowd that he just signed “loser pays” lawsuit reform in Texas to cut down on frivolous litigation, and he fully expects this latest accomplishment will put Texas back on top.

Still, Perry surely took notice of the unusually spirited standing ovation McDonnell received when he walked out to introduce him. The Texan didn’t skimp on praising his host. “In Virginia you have the right formula,” Perry said, “because you have the right leadership. Bob McDonnell has given the business creators and small-business owners that opportunity.”

So what does it mean that the relatively unsung Bob McDonnell holds his own in head-to-head comparison with the governor who happens to hold a commanding lead in the GOP presidential primary? (In addition to that day’s Quinnipiac poll showing high marks for McDonnell, Public Policy Polling also released a survey showing Perry had a 13-point lead over Mitt Romney.)

At the press gaggle afterward, reporters were not shy about asking Perry whether the popular Virginia governor has potential as a running-mate. “That is thinking too far ahead,” Perry said.

And while Perry’s already been endorsed by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, McDonnell is keeping his cards relatively close to his vest.

“I think we’ve got a very strong field and I think we’ve got a number of candidates on the stage that could beat President Obama,” McDonnell says. “I’m a little partial to governors, because when I look at why I think the leadership in Washington is failing, it’s a lack of executive experience and an inability to really focus on getting things done.”

Of the current crop of contenders, only Romney, Perry, and Huntsman have been governors. To further winnow things down, it’s worth noting that Perry and McDonnell worked closely together at the Republican Governors Association, where Perry was chairman and McDonnell was vice-chairman. After Perry quit the association to run for president, McDonnell assumed the chairmanship.

But McDonnell’s only been governor for less than two years (after 21 years in the Army, where he retired as a lieutenant colonel, 14 years in the state legislature, and a stint as state attorney general). The Virginia governor insists he’s not looking at national politics. For now, at least, he says he’s content to spend his time messing with Texas.

Mark Hemingway is online editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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