The current Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been and remains a pretty popular leader. His legacy of a decreased unemployment rate that betters the national average, repeatedly balanced budgets, and a relatively evenhanded leadership style will be a tough act to follow, but you can’t run for two consecutive gubernatorial terms in the Old Dominion — a rule of which I am exceedingly fond.

Candidates can’t officially sign up for the contest until January, but several people have already gone public with their political intentions, via WaPo a few days back:

The early fight in Virginia next year will be among Republicans, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II headlining the showdown to be the party’s gubernatorial nominee. The matchup features an establishment candidate — Bolling — versus a tea party favorite — Cuccinelli — and illustrates the larger battle for control within the GOP. …

Republicans will not choose their candidate through an open primary but at their state convention, which is closed — creating a different dynamic for campaigning. …

On the Democratic side, McAuliffe, a former chairman of the party’s national committee, is the only potential gubernatorial candidate who has made his intentions known. But Sen. Mark R. Warner, a former governor, has been flirting with a bid to return to the Capitol, and recent polling suggests he would be a favorite to win next fall should he decide to run.

But Sen. Warner announced earlier this week that he intends to stay in the Senate and focus on his job there rather than making another gubernatorial bid, meaning that the path forward is clear for McAuliffe. McDonnell, meanwhile, has maintained for awhile now that he’ll be supporting Bolling as his successor, and the resources McDonnell has built up as head of the Republican Governors’ Association are nothing to sneeze at — especially since Virginia has no official limits on who can donate to statewide campaigns, nor on how much they can donate.

There’s been a lot of focus lately on the probable gubernatorial showdown between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker as the odd-year election story to watch, but almost one year into what will be Obama’s second term, the 2013 election of super-swingy Virginia could be a pretty telling forerunner of which way the national mood is starting to swing ahead of the 2014 midterms — certainly a plot on which to keep a weather eye.