October 18, 2009

IT STARTS WITH GOOD GOVERNORS:

McDonnell, a poised presence, could lift the GOP (Tyler Whitley, October 18, 2009, Richmond Times-Dispatch)

On the campaign trail, the former attorney general is cool and unflappable, traveling the state in a Ford Expedition with a McD4VA license plate.

In his trademark button-down shirt and khakis, he moves slowly through a crowd, pausing to shake hands and make conversation with each prospective voter. He also exhibits a keen sense of humor.

In February, during a dinner with reporters who cover state politics, McDonnell poked fun at one of his formative political alliances. He said he was so worried about the Democrats' media coverage and fundraising that he "called Pat Robertson and asked if he could direct a hurricane" to their Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner.

McDonnell, 55, caught a break in his quest for governor when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling decided not to challenge him for the Republican nomination, but instead run for re-election.

It wasn't the first time good fortune blessed McDonnell's family. In 1912, according to family lore, one of McDonnell's grandfathers got sick and missed a voyage -- on the Titanic.

McDonnell was born in Philadelphia but grew up in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County. A Roman Catholic, he attended Bishop Ireton High School, where he played wide receiver and defensive back for the football team.

In November 1971, McDonnell's Bishop Ireton squad faced off against the undefeated T.C. Williams High School powerhouse team memorialized in the film "Remember the Titans."

Ireton lost 26-8, but McDonnell scored his team's only points, on a 63-yard touchdown reception and a two-point conversion.

Scott O'Brien, quarterback on the Bishop Ireton team, says McDonnell was a "tough and feisty" football player. When he scored the two-point conversion against T.C. Williams, McDonnell "was hit so hard that he vomited on the sidelines, but he was back in the game on the next play," O'Brien said. "He probably didn't weigh 150 pounds dripping wet."

Now a high school administrator in Myrtle Beach, S.C., O'Brien also remembers McDonnell's sense of humor.

"He had a nickname for everyone," O'Brien said. McDonnell called O'Brien "Sonny" after Washington Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen.

"He had great people skills," O'Brien said of McDonnell. "Everybody congregated around him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2009 1:43 PM
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