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McDonnell Scandal Wreaks Unprecedented Reputation Damage - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

McDonnell Scandal Wreaks Unprecedented Reputation Damage

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The list of questionable financial moves by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell - from Rolexes to rental houses - is focusing unprecedented attention on his ethics.

The governor denies breaking the law. Others say breaking the public trust is problem enough.

2013 hasn't been kind to Bob McDonnell. The past six months have brought ethical questions and investigations - but so far, no criminal charges. But political experts say, regardless of what comes next, the damage may already be done for McDonnell and the Republican Party. 

"This is unprecedented in Virginia; it's un-Virginian," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Virginia should consider itself lucky. It's rare in the commonwealth to hear rumors of political wrongdoing, rarer even when the conversation turns to the potential resignation of a sitting governor. 

"No Virginia governor has ever resigned since the four-year term was established in 1851," Sabato said. 

Sabato says a resignation is highly unlikely. He says the only thing that could unseat Virginia's leader would be a plea deal from federal prosecutors if McDonnell is found to have violated corruption laws. 

"I think he will fight that with everything he's got, and he's only got about six months left. He can tough it out," Sabato said. 

Regardless of what the immediate future holds, Sabato says McDonnell's life in politics is over, and unlike other embattled office-holders, a comeback is unlikely. 

"People say, oh what about Mark Sanford? What about Eliot Spitzer? What about Anthony Weiner? Those are sins of the flesh. The public seems to forgive sins of the flesh a lot faster than they forgive financial scandals," Sabato said. 

The impact of this scandal extends well beyond McDonnell. For more than a century, sitting governors have often chosen their successor. The last time a party controlled the governor's mansion for a single four-year term was in the 1880s. 

"It's the fact that Governor McDonnell has become so unpopular so fast that has put Ken Cuccinelli in real danger of losing. Even someone with as many difficulties and drawbacks as Terry McAuliffe has is actually in a position to run," Sabato said. 

Of course, it's a long time before Election Day. But you can be sure this is an issue that will keep coming up. 

Friday, supporters of McDonnell announced the formation of a new nonprofit group to help fund the governor's legal defense. The goal, organizers say, is to help the governor "clear his good name." 

The governor is still under both state and federal investigation.

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