The political influence of the Washington region is expanding, as sitting governors on both sides of the Potomac now hold the top posts for chief executives in both parties.

When Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was named chairman of the Republican Governors Association this week, he joined Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley -- chairman of the Democratic Governors Association -- at the top of a national campaign organization that will play a central role in the 2012 elections.

Aside from growing the area's political clout, the positions serve as crucial litmus tests for a pair widely considered prominent players on the national stage.

Each enjoyed widespread popularity in the wake of generally noncompetitive elections to the governor's mansion. Now both will largely oversee fundraising, networking and shaping the future of their respective parties.

And with the spotlight, speculation has run rampant about the political futures of both McDonnell and O'Malley.

McDonnell's name has surfaced repeatedly in recent days as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate, a position he said he would be willing to accept but is not actively seeking. O'Malley has been mentioned for a variety of Cabinet posts and as a potential vice presidential candidate if the position were to become available.

The Virginia governor took over as head of the Republican Governors Association after Texas Gov. Rick Perry stepped down to run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Other prominent politicians such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour have seen their national influence rise after serving in the same position. O'Malley is now serving in his second term as DGA chairman.