"They don't have to be dragged to the table to meet with each other to talk about the issues," said James C. Dinegar, CEO and president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, which has been coordinating the Metro meetings. "They don't have to hold their nose to sit with each other."
McDonnell made a forceful case for more federal assistance, and O'Malley rose to support him, Swanson said. "I think that they have a relationship that would not be unlike sports team rivals," Swanson said. "They certainly respect each other for what they do," she said.
Their cooperation — and ability to present a united front — has led the federal government to ease off on some rules that both states said would be difficult to implement, she said.
Regional issues aside, the two men would have much in their past to discuss over a pint of Guinness. O'Malley, 48, and McDonnell, 57, both come from Irish Catholic families and graduated from Catholic universities (O'Malley from Catholic University and McDonnell from Notre Dame). Each man has a law degree and their resumes both include stints as prosecutors and time working as staffers in national politics.
O'Malley was first elected to office in 1991, when he became a member of Baltimore's City Council. That year McDonnell too won his first election, becoming a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. They became governor within three years of each other; O'Malley in 2007 and McDonnell in 2010.
There hasn't always been such collegiality between the Maryland and Virginia governors of opposite parties. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat who was in office from 1995 to 2003, clashed with both of the Republican Virginia governors who overlapped his tenure.
Glendening says he and Virginia Gov. George F. Allen "had struggles," notably including a heated battle over a multi-state initiative to increase reforestation projects along Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Relations weren't much better when Republican Gov. James Gilmore III took over in 1998.
Despite some agreements, the friendliness between O'Malley and McDonnell evaporates when their states are competing for corporate headquarters and jobs. O'Malley lost to McDonnell in 2010 when defense contractor Northrop Grumman decided to locate in the commonwealth instead of Maryland and more recently Bechtel Power Corp. decided to move 625 jobs from Frederick to Reston, Va.
Also maddening, according to O'Malley aides, are McDonnell hints about luring Lockheed Martin from Bethesda.
"There is always competition for business," said Boyd Marcus, who was Gov. Gilmore's chief of staff. "Each governor is responsible for selling his state and making his case why we are the best."
Nationally, the two governors have already gone head-to-head on CNN's "State of the Union" program to debate President Obama's jobs bill. McDonnell called out O'Malley for using partisan rhetoric.
"Words like 'dinosaur wing' and 'extremist,' it's not helpful to the civility in our country," McDonnell said, referring to terms O'Malley often uses on national television when describing elements of the Republican Party.
"They both have to wear two hats," said Tucker Martin, McDonnell's communications director. "They will have one relationship as competing party heads and a different relationship as governors of neighboring states."
In the next 12 months, as both governors ramp up their party work, Martin predicted that their paths will cross on the hustings. "I think if that happens, they will shake hands and share a laugh," Martin said.
They'll also be watching one another carefully.
"I know my boss will have a score card, and O'Malley will have a score card," Martin said. "One of them will call the other in December 2012 and say, 'I win.'"