By: Ryan Nobles
2017 is a long way way, but if you were handicapping the field for Virginia's next governor, be sure to include one name.
Understandable given the looming federal investigation the outgoing governor is facing. In fact, the Washington Post has reported that the feds were close to filing charges just before the holidays.
There is no doubt McDonnell's legal troubles haunt any potential future run, but if he ends up clear, which is a real possibility his political muscle for republicans may be hard to ignore.
With the deck now clear of statewide republicans of any kind, the GOP will be searching for a viable candidate to face any of a potential fleet of prominent democrats certain to be interested. McDonnell's team has touted approval ratings that show him with as much as 60% of support with Virginia voters even at the height of the coverage of the Star-Scientific scandal.
Meanwhile, McDonnell's team has made an aggressive push to get on the record his accomplishments as governor. That includes an 85 page retrospective compiled by his press team.
As for the governor himself? He is certainly not ruling out a future run.
"Four years is an eternity," he told me. "I'm 63 now, and a lot can happen in that time Ryan. I can't say."
But when I specifically asked if he'd rule it out, McDonnell smiled and said "Well..." before launching into what he enjoyed about being governor.
He concluded by making it clear all options are on the table.
"I don't know what the future holds, but I just know it is going to be in the private sector and in private life." he said.
He did say specifically "I never rule anything out."
We will have to see just how long his time as a private citizen will last.
You can see McDonnell's full comments on a future run for governor below:
MORE: *Our full report on McDonnell's time in office on NBC12.com.
*Our full report on McDonnell's final State of the Commonwealth.
A press officer for the Republican Governor's Association seems to like the idea of a McDonnell run in 2017: