POLITICS

Gov auditions for VP slot he says he's not seeking

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By BOB LEWIS AP Political Writer

In politics, it's not good for elected officials to show too much interest in career opportunities that desperately interest them. And in Virginia, it's a lesson that bears repeating every few years.

Just last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell told The Associated Press he's neither ruling out a potential vice presidential run in 2012, nor seeking it out.

But earlier in the week, the popular Virginia conservative often mentioned as a running mate prospect for a 2012 GOP ticket that needs to deny President Barack Obama a second victory in Virginia told Politico he's "be very interested" in running if asked, noting that Virginia is a swing state.

That was Monday, the same day McDonnell substantially boosted his national profile within the GOP by inheriting command of the Republican Governors Association when his Texas counterpart stepped down as RGA chairman to run for president.

But by Tuesday, McDonnell was tempering his initial exuberance.

"Well, it's mostly a creation of the media," McDonnell said by phone between a series of guest appearances on cable news politics segments.

He dismissed it as idle talk, noting that it will be nearly a year before his party formally nominates a presidential candidate. "I'm not campaigning for anything, I'm not running for anything and I'm not expecting anything."

"If a presidential candidate called any governor and said, `I want you to be on my team,' well, of course I'd be interested. That's what I said," McDonnell added.

Pressed further about his Washington ambitions, McDonnell becomes annoyed, insisting that his focus is on November's legislative elections and the chance to take Senate control from the Democrats with a net gain of two seats. He also said he wanted to concentrate on the mandate that he present a new two-year state budget by mid-December.

The trick is to audition for the job without being too showy about it, said Dennis J. Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University in Iowa, the state that hosts the first nominating contest each presidential election year.

"It's considered unseemly and a little gauche to be seen as campaigning too aggressively for the vice presidential nomination," Goldford said.

"Once you put out the signal - or in this case, I guess, a neon sign - that you're interested in the vice presidency, then the best thing you can do is to forget about it and do the best job you can," he said.

And there is little an aspiring running mate can do to actively win the chance to hold a job that Franklin Roosevelt's vice president, John Nance Garner, said was "not worth a bucket of warm spit." It's totally up to the presidential nominee.

"Any time you get exposure at the national level, that puts you on their radar, and you stay there unless there's a major gaffe or a scandal," Goldford said.

Virginia Democrats quickly piled on, accusing McDonnell of looking out for his own advancement while forgetting a pledge to serve his full, four-year term to which Virginia uniquely limits its governors.

"Virginia lost more than 14,000 jobs in the month of June alone, but Bob McDonnell seems much more focused on applying for his own next job than he is on helping working Virginia families," said David Mills, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

McDonnell isn't first Virginia governor forced to gingerly address questions about whether he would leave early for a bigger office across the Potomac.

Speculation dogged his predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, from the time it became clear Obama, his close personal and political ally, had the nomination clenched. By the eve of the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, Kaine was a finalist for the job and journalists worldwide tracked his every move, word and nuance for days before Obama settled on Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

McDonnell wasn't the only Virginia statewide elected officer last week who felt compelled to dampen reports that his eyes were on higher federal office. After the Washington Post quoted Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as saying he was considering a 2014 run against Democratic Sen. Mark R. Warner, Cuccinelli's operatives were contacting reporters to downplay the story.

"To be clear, Ken is not actively considering a run for U.S. Senate, and he has made no determination of what office he will seek next," Noah Wall of Cuccinelli's political committee wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "We've been consistent in not ruling out any option, but we want to be clear that deciding what's next is not a priority right now."

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