McDonnell served in the House of Delegates for 14 years, and in 2005, succeeded in a close race to become Virginia's Attorney General against Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds.
In 2009, McDonnell faced Deeds for a second time as they both sought the governorship. McDonnell won the state by 18 points, just one year after Barack Obama carried the state by 7 points over Republican candidate John McCain.
Months after being elected to the governorship, McDonnell was selected to deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address in 2010, joining GOP rising stars such as Gov. Bobby Jindal and Rep. Paul Ryan, who have given the address.
Under McDonnell's watch, unemployment in Virginia has dropped to 5.6 percent, compared to the national rate of 8.2 percent. When McDonnell assumed the governorship, unemployment sat at 7.3 percent. He boasts of attracting businesses to the state and slashing budget deficits without raising taxes.
While his governorship has centered on economic stimulation, McDonnell also touts a strong social conservative agenda – anti-abortion and protecting traditional forms of marriage.
In February, the Virginia legislature was poised to pass a bill requiring women seeking abortions in the state to have an ultrasound prior to the procedure. The initial bill called for the ultrasound to be conducted vaginally, which drew an outcry from women advocacy groups, with some calling it a form of rape. McDonnell asked for the legislature to change the requirement for the ultrasound to be performed abdominally.
McDonnell signed the revised legislation in March, making Virginia the eighth state to adopt such a measure, but the dustup over the initial bill led to criticism that could explain his drop in approval ratings in the state. A March Quinnipiac poll showed McDonnell's approval rating at 53, still high, but down 5 points from February.
This wasn't McDonnell's first tangle with controversy as governor of Old Dominion. In 2010, McDonnell proclaimed April as "Confederate History Month" but did not include any reference to slavery, drawing heat from Democrats, civil rights groups, and the local community. McDonnell later apologized for the omission, adding to the proclamation "it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time of period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history."
McDonnell assumed the chairmanship of the Republican Governor's Association after Texas Gov. Rick Perry left the post to run for president in August.
When it comes to his vice presidential ambitions, McDonnell and his staff stick to the script – he has the best job in the nation, one once held by the likes of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. McDonnell, who endorsed Romney in January, has said he would consider the vice presidential slot as he believes anyone would if approached by the leader of the party to join him on the ticket, but the Virginia governor, who is barred from running for a second term in the state, always explains he isn't pursuing the VP position.
"I'm not interviewing or auditioning. I've got Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson's job. It doesn't get any better than that," he says.