Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell received a huge boost yesterday in the form of an endorsement from billionaire Sheila Johnson, a lifelong Democrat and media mogul (see Washington Times). She is the co-founder of BET and other cable networks, among other businesses, and a big financial backer of Governor Tim Kaine's 2005 campaign. At first, this surprise and enthusiastic endorsement truly gives cover to McDonnell's umbrella group of supporters, Virginians For McDonnell. When he announced its formation in June, many Mainstream Media types scrutinized it as only a shelter for prodigal Republicans who've danced with Senator Mark Warner, but not welcome back as full partners by GOP regulars, and a few legit independents. But without visible support from true Dems, analysts said, this was a gimmick, and no proof of McDonnell's success in gaining a cross-section of support and/or middle-of-the-road and independent voters.
Boy, does this change that. This modern-day Maggie Walker said she "did her homework" and interviewed all the candidates for governor, going back to the Democrat primary. Further, she said, she's not changing parties. It remains to be seen if the McDonnell campaign maximizes this endorsement or if she will carry enough juice to have an impact at all. But one would think she will star for him in television ads at least — pretty ironic if she doesn't, eh? — not to mention her potential financial support.
In 1993, Virginians saw something similar when mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell, another very wealthy Virginia celebrity, who typically endorsed Democrats and who had endorsed Mary Sue Terry for governor, flipped to George Allen. Her reasons never were nearly as well explained as Ms. Johnson's, but she made a famous television ad announcing her newfound enthusiasm for Allen. It perhaps was the turning point in the campaign, and there was no going back for Allen, who stormed past a 17-point polling deficit to win by about the same margin.
At the least, this is a momentum builder for McDonnell. A big-time businesswoman, she must recognize how desparate the economy is now, and her credibilty there is huge. But will it have the impact and result of the Cornwell endorsement of George Allen in 1993?
This year's Patricia Cornwell? Sheila Johnson stars at a news conference yesterday for Bob McDonnell. But will she star for him in campaign ads? Is this a campaign turning point or a momentum builder for McDonnell?