(I've been meaning to write about this for a few months, but today's poll makes it relevant..)
In the last couple of months I have been at three events that Attorney General Bob McDonnell has been a guest at. Two were political events for candidates running that I was covering, and the third was the Virginia Free luncheon earlier this month. At all three events I made some time to follow him around a little, watch him in action with people and see what makes Bob a successful politician.
One of the first things I noticed was his personal style. A lot of politicians like for people to come up to them and chat. Bob's different. He aggressively works every room and goes up to people himself to say hello. This gives him a big advantage in the conversations- who wants to say anything critical to an Attorney General who is seeking you out to say hello? Try no one, not a single person in any of the three crowds that I observed had anything critical or negative to say to Bob.
That aggressive style and confidence may come from his biggest asset- memory. Bob remembered an amazing number of names when he worked the room. When he remembered the name, he clearly put it into the conversation to make it clear he had remembered it. Again, who doesn't like to have an elected official remember their name? Also, I noticed that while he knew all the names of high ranking people in the party or business community, he also knew most of the names of the YR's, and a lot of younger people who might be seen as less important.
But names wasn't all that was on Bob's mind. He also had a knack for remembering when and where he had last met that person, and what they had discussed. All of which he slipped into the conversation so they knew he remembered. Slick. Plus, Bob seemed to remember where they had left off in the conversation and was able to start it back up again right there. For example (and I am shortening these, but you get the point) the first event I was at "Hey Ben, how's the blog been going. I was reading (some story up recently on NLS) and thought it was interesting. By the way, I'm still interested in the blogging ethics we discussed in Martinsville. Please keep me up to date on what you guys decide to do with that". Second event, "Hey Ben, good to see you at (first event). Yeah, that article you did (insert another recent NLS post since the last event) on (someone) was really interesting, I totally agree. I'd really like to see more blogging like that. I just think blogging should have some ethical guidelines, I'm really interested in that, has anything happened with that discussion recently..." and at the third event "Hey Ben, you've been around all over recently (names first two events), good to see you again. Did you see that a lot of the blogs (names a couple) have been talking about ethical blogging recently. Are you going to do something on it? That's a real important issue to me. Let me know what's going on with it".
Now those quotes are shortened, and not exact (he's much more personable then than those quotes would appear) but you get the point. As I watched him work the room at all three events, he was able to do that with almost every person in the room that he had met before. Candidates, party politics, sports, whatever Bob had discussed with you he remembered and brought it up again.
Finally, Bob has got down the most important part of working a room (and this is the part I suck at) which is ending the conversation. What he usually did was bring someone else into the conversation, chatted with both people, then moved on to the next person. For example, say McDonnell is speaking to a group of three people. He'll talk to all three, as the conversation got scattered he would say hello to each person individually and then chat with the group. So it goes like this. Group Chat. Personal Attention to Person A. Group Chat. Personal Attention to Person B. Group Chat. Personal Attention to Person C. Group Chat. "Nice to see you all." On to next group.
Again, this sounds a little robotic in writing. And it is a little bit when you watch Bob interact with a few hundred people as I did. But for the individuals Bob is talking to, they all seem to leave the conversation happy. If they have a question, it's been answered, or Bob has refereed them to someone in his office who can answer it, or he's told them who they need to ask outside of his office. If they have a concern, Bob has listened, given them some empathy to the position and offered any support he can provide if possible. If they are interested in an issue, Bob has discussed either what happened on that issue when he was in the legislature or what the recent action has been on it since he left. And if they are an intimidated YR that can't believe the AG would talk to them, Bob has carried the entire conversation so they don't have to fake it. If you go on too long, Bob will listen without turning away until the conversation reaches a "pause" point. If you don't have much to say, Bob will carry the conversation until you do, or until it's clear that he tried.
So then the other question is how does Bob do when he speaks in front of the entire group. Well, like all statewide elected officials, Bob has some talent with public speaking. But his style is not as a grand orator. Instead, he picks a message that will unify the crowd, without being real "rah rah". For example, at the Virginia Free Luncheon in Tysons Corner, Bob talked about being glad to be from Northern Virginia. His family has been here since the 1960's. (Regional Brother- Check). There weren't that many people around here then. (History- Check). There wasn't this kind of traffic. (Acknowledge Key Local Issue- Check). He's glad the GA did something about that this year. (Current Event- Check). Business needs a good transportation system (Minor Pander to crowd- Check).
If I was going to use one word to describe McDonnell it would be methodical. He can find common ground with both sides of an issue with contradicting himself or telling people different things. He remembers your name, your issues, and he knows his broader audience when he speaks to everyone.
It's easy to see how he got so much intensity behind his support, and how he became one of the favorites for the Gubernatorial election in 2009.