Politicians are a lot like TV characters. They often read from scripts in carefully staged locations, their approval ratings are a key to their current and future prospects, and they all have their eyes on bigger roles.
Consider Gov. Ralph Northam (D), whose bumpy tenure as the leading player on the commonwealth’s biggest political stage is drawing to a close. What does he do for a follow-up?
The options are limited or unappealing. Virginia’s incumbent senators — Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats, have burrowed in. A House seat? The last governor to do that was Bill Tuck .
So what’s an ambitious pol looking to prove himself to the wider political audience of donors, influencers, hangers-on and wannabes to do?
Audition for the role of Virginia “Power Broker.”
Like its fictional equivalent in the Marvel streaming universe, the Virginia Power Broker has, traditionally, worked quietly but with great authority, using a nod  or employing a “golden silence ” to manipulate events and careers.
The Power Brokers of Old — Sens. Harry Byrd, Claude Swanson, Thomas Martin and John Barbour — are gone, their organizations reduced to encyclopedia entries. Byrd’s statute on the Capitol grounds is coming down.
But the allure of being able to call the political shots like those men did remains strong, especially in a state where governors cannot succeed themselves and the bigger, national political roles are already filled.
Northam’s bid for the Power Broker role is something of a reach, considering he was nearly driven from office in 2019 in the wake of the medical school yearbook scandal.
Northam had to surrender his political role that year to his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe (D), and watch from the sidelines as Democrats took control of the General Assembly.
That was a setback — and it gave McAuliffe the inside track on landing the Power Broker role. So Northam needed to do something big to bring the spotlight back to him.
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