This southern city is a tranquil place in the summertime.
The steamy downtown streets and grand boulevards that radiate outward from the old Confederate capital are less choked as families seek shelter from the heat and clear out of town for jaunts to the beach or the river.
Children are off to summer camp or at the pool. Attention has turned to barbecues, outdoor concerts and the hotly anticipated arrival of the Washington Redskins' training camp.
Even in election years, politics in Virginia is usually an autumn enterprise.
Until this year.
Even with the legislature out of session, Richmond has been consumed this summer by a slowly unfolding drama starring the once-invincible governor, Bob McDonnell, and a charismatic donor who provided the Republican and his family with almost $150,000 in previously undisclosed gifts, including a Rolex watch, a Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree, and a high-dollar payment to a company owned by the governor.
State and federal investigators are now looking into McDonnell's relationship with Jonnie Williams, the CEO of a troubled nutritional supplement company called Star Scientific who was recently dubbed "Uncle Jonnie" by longtime Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro for his apparent willingness to shower the McDonnell clan with fancy gifts.
The inquiries into McDonnell and Star Scientific have also threatened to ensnare this year's Republican nominee for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, who has his own ties to Williams but has recently sought to distance himself from both the donor and the embattled governor.
The details of the investigation, revealed by leak after devastating leak in the pages of The Washington Post and other newspapers, have stunned both Republicans and Democrats, who are having trouble squaring the well-mannered politician they know with the careless and tacky figure portrayed in news reports.
"You can disagree with the person on policy, and the disagreements can be passionate or even vehement, but you just didn't expect this from this governor," said state Sen. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Richmond. "He has always come across in dealing with him, on a political level and personal level, as someone who is squeaky clean. Regrettably, it's appearing that that's not the case."
McDonnell has been at the center of some hot-button partisan fights -- notably a 2012 legislative battle over an invasive abortion procedure -- but the biggest personal knock on McDonnell before this summer's scandal was the compulsive attention he paid to his diligently parted hair.
Since his election in 2009, Republicans have labeled McDonnell a star. His fundraising acumen, message discipline and understated charm helped lift him to the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association in 2011, a post other governors have used as a springboard to a presidential campaign.
McDonnell's tightly knit team of advisers exercised great power over the machinery of Virginia Republican politics, appeasing the right wing of the party while also courting the business community that has long held sway in Richmond.
The governor and his aides, many of whom were caught off guard by the Star Scientific imbroglio, also proved skillful at courting members of the national media.
Impressive resume eclipsed by scandal
Political watchers assumed in 2012 that McDonnell was considered for the position of GOP presidential Mitt Romney's running mate even though McDonnell was never vetted for the job, a person familiar with the vice presidential search process told CNN.
Still, some Republicans figured McDonnell would at least take a look at running for president in 2016. Others pegged him for a future cabinet official, perhaps attorney general, in a Republican administration. Now, facing the appearance of impropriety, ethical wrongdoing and, according to The Post, a federal grand jury, those hopes appeared dashed.
But more troubling to McDonnell loyalists is that his impressive gubernatorial resume -- the crowning achievement of a long political career -- has been eclipsed by scandal.
The governor marshaled a landmark bipartisan transportation deal through the legislature earlier this year, even though it included tax hikes that rankled conservatives in his own party. Virginia ended the most recent fiscal year with a $262 million budget surplus, ensuring pay raises for state employees for the first time since 2007. The state unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3%.
At one point in 2011, McDonnell's approval rating was a sky-high 70%. Those numbers later came back to earth, but he has mostly hovered above a 50% approval rating throughout his tenure in Richmond.
Today, with the Star Scientific saga a regular feature on Virginia news broadcasts thanks to the drip-drip nature of story, more Virginians disapprove of his performance than approve.
McDonnell and allies have cautiously defended the lack of disclosure as consistent with Virginia law, which does not require elected officials to report gifts provided to family members like McDonnell's wife and daughter.
Elected officials in Virginia are allowed to accept gifts over $50, as long as they are publicly disclosed. McDonnell has reported other gifts from Williams, including a stay at a lake house and private plane travel. Williams has also given generously to McDonnell's political organization.
"The rules that I'm following have been rules that have been in place for decades," McDonnell told a radio interviewer last week. "These have been the disclosure rules of Virginia. I'm following those."
There is no evidence that the governor granted special favors to Williams or his company in exchange for his financial largesse, a point hammered home by McDonnell loyalists.