Cal  Thomas

"It shows that Virginia is still a right-of-center state," he says. McDonnell notes he won substantially in large pockets of Northern Virginia, the Post's backyard, which had been trending Democratic. He maintains the newspaper actually did him a favor: "The Post, along with my opponent, created such a misplaced focus on my position on social issues that they ceded the entire playing field to me on economic issues, which is what people were voting on."

Message: If you have a good platform that can improve the economy and promote job creation, Independents will give you a pass on your social agenda. That is a reversal of traditional Republican thinking of putting social issues front and center. "I try to (attract Independents) by reaching out and embracing people, not having a covenant of limitations that excludes people."

So is McDonnell a "big tent Republican"? It is a phrase that has come to mean the acceptance of anyone, even if they have positions that do not fit the Republican mold. "I do believe it is absolutely critical for the Republican Party to have a core set of principles that everyone can embrace ... to create public policy. What I am concerned about are these acid tests where if you fail on one or two, you are ostracized from the party. That leads to infighting, destruction and losses at the polls." He seems uncomfortable with a "purity pledge" that proponents plan to submit at the Republican National Committee's meeting in Hawaii next month.

A practicing Catholic, McDonnell reads his Bible, several newspapers and Websites daily for "inspiration and information." "Where my faith helps me immensely is that there is a style of governing that, for me as a Christian, means dialogue, civility, politeness, a spirit of cooperation and goodwill and trying to find ways to work together, while never capitulating on my principles."

That is an extreme makeover from the angry Republican and it might be a winning model for the GOP in 2010 and beyond.

Cal Thomas

Get Cal Thomas' new book, What Works, at Amazon.

Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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