Gov. Timothy Kaine's high-profile flirtation with Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama has been widely viewed as a possible boon to state Republicans, who'd inherit the abandoned governor's mansion.
But it could get ugly.
The lieutenant governor, Hanover Republican Bill Bolling, gets to be governor if Kaine leaves, but it's not clear how quickly. The Republicans would protest madly, but technically Kaine could stay till Jan. 19, deliver his State of the Commonwealth address and draft his final budget bill.
Delegate Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, co-chairman of Sen. John McCain's Virginia campaign, says the upheaval that would come with an administrative turnover would highlight the need for stability, although a Republican governor would smooth the acrimonious budget battle raging over transportation.
"We would be able to work with the governor in the budget - that sets the tone in the 2009 elections," Saxman says. "The revenue forecast then becomes very political, which is unfortunate."
The revenue projections estimate how much tax income the state can expect in the coming fiscal year. The figures are reviewed by a group of economists selected by the governor and unveiled with Kaine's final budget before Dec. 20.
Not that the budget isn't already political. Former Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner, who stepped down last week and is expected to run for lieutenant governor, had to readjust the budget forecast last year - which led to statewide budget cuts and a hiring freeze - after predicting revenues that were a bit too sunny. Meanwhile, Kaine may be forced to readjust revenue forecasts again this fall.
But will Bolling necessarily be the Republican nominee in 2009? He announced in May that he would not run for governor, making Attorney General Bob McDonnell the presumptive candidate. But if Bolling finishes out Kaine's term, it's likely that McDonnell will step aside and let Bolling run as an incumbent in 2009.
"If I had to lay odds," says former Republican state Sen. Brandon Bell "it would be 60-40" that McDonnell would back away and run for re-election as attorney general. That may not bode well for McDonnell.
"The longer you're attorney general, the more you do that can and will be held against you in an election," says Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a Democratic political operative who worked with Democrat Mary Sue Terry - a two-term attorney general who ran for governor and lost to George Allen in 1993.
Either way, Republican spinners can offer up a seasoned ticket in 2009. That leaves Democrats looking conspicuously unruly. Northern Virginia Delegate Brian Moran and Sen. Creigh Deeds of Hot Springs are expected to battle it out in a costly primary for the Democratic nomination for governor.
There has been some effort to convince Deeds to drop back and run for attorney general. If he does that, and McDonnell stays in place, it'll be a repeat of their 2005 head-to-head, which McDonnell won by just 323 votes.