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Analysis: Bob McDonnell's Indictment A Fall From Grace For Former Governor

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Before a federal court charged Bob and Maureen McDonnell in connection accepting gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, the former governor of Virginia's political career looked bright. Even before his first day in court, analysts say those prospects are likely gone for good.

National Journal Political Correspondent Alex Roarty says McDonnell was a popular choice for the Republican nomination in 2016.

"As you mentioned, I think it was only a couple of years ago when people envisioned him as a future presidential candidate," says Roarty, "Let's not forget that in 2009, when he was elected, he was really seen as the epitome of the Republican resurgence in the Obama Era."

Much of the excitement among GOP supporters stemmed from McDonnell's ability to appeal to a wide variety of voters in an increasingly polarized political environment.

"He was the sort of moderate conservative that a lot of Republicans thought had real national ambition," says Roarty.

Stephen Farnsworth, a professor political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington, says that before the scandal, McDonnell was in an excellent position to make a push for the Republican nomination.

"Governor McDonnell really could have had it all in politics. He had a very successful four years as governor until this scandal. He passed a transportation bill that was the biggest bill in more than two decades. He was able to build a lot of support among moderate voters despite having very Christian, conservative oriented Republican perspective," says Farnsworth.

However, after yesterday's verdict, many sources agree that McDonnell's career as a national politician is on a rapid decline. Roarty suggests the accounts of McDonnell's crimes in the indictment might be the most devastating to any chance at political resurrection. 

"I think if people read the indictment which is being reported on a pretty large scale today, a lot of the anecdotes today are politically life threatening," says Roarty.   

Prosecutors would have found it much easier to believe that accepting a gift was a result of poor judgment rather than actually corruption if such anecdotes didn't suggest that the illicit actions hadn't happened over and over again, and that they didn't involve multiple members of the family. 

Unlike other state governments, Virginia is relatively unaccustomed to dealing with issues of corruption in its government. But now that McDonnell's actions have been brought to light, the state's contribution and donation disclosure policies will come under close scrutiny. The many loopholes in Virginia disclosure laws are what allowed McDonnell's actions to go unnoticed in the first placed.

Some hopeful Republicans will point to former South Carolina governor Mark Sandford as evidence that a political figure can bounce back from a scandal. Roarty believes there is some truth to that.

"Mark Sanford, the infamous former governor of South Carolina who had an extra-marital affair while in office, just won a congressional race in South Carolina," says Roarty. "So clearly there is a way back for people who seem clearly to be left for dead."

However, the political correspondent also points to Virginia's inexperience with corruption, and the former Governor's repeated infractions as significant reasons for McDonnell supporters to not expect too much.

"I don't think anyone is counting on the former governor of Virginia to make a comeback any time soon."

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