May 3, 2012 -- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell campaigned with Mitt Romney in the state this week, enhancing his profile as a potential vice presidential pick. A popular pro-life battleground state governor, McDonnell's credentials include military service, stints as a prosecutor and state attorney general as well as overseeing a major drop in unemployment in his state during his term.
McDonnell's name on the GOP ticket could help Romney deliver a state that he described as one that "decides who the next president is" this fall, but recent controversies may also hurt McDonnell's chances of being picked.
The son of an Air Force officer, McDonnell, 57, was born in Philadelphia, but spent the majority of his childhood in Fairfax, Va., aside from four years he lived overseas while his father was stationed in Germany.
McDonnell, a Catholic, played football in high school and even boasts of scoring his school's lone touchdown against the legendary 1971 T.C. Williams Titans featured in the film "Remember the Titans." He attended the University of Notre Dame on an ROTC scholarship and enlisted in the Army upon graduation, serving as a medical supply officer in Germany and Newport News, Va. He was in the Army Reserves until 1997, when he retired as a lieutenant colonel.
McDonnell married his wife, Maureen, in 1976, and the couple had five children – three daughters and two twin sons. His oldest daughter, Jeanine, served as an Army officer in Iraq.
While in the Army, McDonnell attended night school and obtained an Masters of Science in Business Administration from Boston University, which he put to use when he left active duty and began working for a Fortune 500 medical supply company. The young McDonnell moved his family around the country from Virginia to Atlanta to Chicago to Kansas City, before returning back to settle in Virginia Beach while he attended Regent University. Qualifying for the GI Bill, he simultaneously worked on a Masters in public policy while obtaining a law degree and working as a sales manager for a local newspaper.
McDonnell submitted a thesis while in graduate school which later drew scrutiny when he became a public official. The thesis focused on protecting American families and described women who worked as "detrimental" to the family along with saying the government should favor married couples and criticizing a Supreme Court case which legalized the use of contraception by unwed couples.
In a statement to the Washington Post in 2009, McDonnell said of his thesis: "Like everybody, my views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older."
"Virginians will judge me on my 18-year record as a legislator and Attorney General and the specific plans I have laid out for our future -- not on a decades-old academic paper I wrote as a student during the Reagan era and haven't thought about in years," he said.
On the topic of women in the workplace, McDonnell said his previous comments were "simply an academic exercise and clearly does not reflect my views."
Upon graduation from law school in 1989, McDonnell began working as a prosecutor at the Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney's Office before running for the Virginia House of Delegates against a 20-year incumbent, beating him by six points, beginning his undefeated electoral streak in 1991.
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.