Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced today he has suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor, clearing the path for the state’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, a pro-life and pro-family Catholic and one of the most conservative politicians in Virginia (see “Opposing counsel,” by Edward Lee Pitts, from the Feb. 26, 2011, issue of WORLD Magazine).
Cuccinelli drew national attention two years ago when Virginia became one of the first states to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s healthcare reform law.
Bolling, who had the support of current Gov. Bob McDonnell and other key figures in Virginia, was the establishment candidate. Three weeks ago, after Virginia swung to President Barack Obama in the federal election, Bolling told Politico that he was the only electable candidate and better able than Cuccinelli to “reach out to the more moderate independent voters.” Nominating an “ideological firebrand” would guarantee a loss, he said.
But today Bolling announced that he was dropping out.
“Four years ago I decided to set my personal ambition to be governor aside and join with Bob McDonnell to create a united Republican ticket,” Bolling wrote in a letter to supporters, adding, “I had hoped that Attorney General Cuccinelli and I would be able to form that same kind of united Republican ticket in 2013.”
Instead, Cuccinelli announced his candidacy about a year ago, after he had already locked up significant grassroots support in an impressive under-the-radar campaign.
Earlier this year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that Cuccinelli supporters on the GOP State Central Committee managed to change the nominating process from a statewide open primary to a closed party convention, “a move that favored Cuccinelli’s grassroots support and would have forced Bolling to wage fights for delegates in each one of the state’s 134 local party elections leading up to the convention.”
Also, conventions favor candidates with strong support in the party base. Instead of just showing up at a local polling station, conventions require voters to attend an all-day event in Richmond in spring.
In his statement, Bolling admitted that he was unlikely to win a convention and said that a prolonged battle “could create deep divisions within our party. … The wounds that can develop from that type of process are often difficult to heal.” He said he was “unwilling to be part of a process that could seriously damage our image and appeal.”
But in off-year elections, when overall turnout tends to be lower and a committed party base can swing a race, Cuccinelli’s reputation as a strong social conservative may help him more than it hurts. His opponent will likely be former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli also has a record of winning in Democratic strongholds. Prior to becoming the state’s attorney general in 2009, he served for eight years in the Virginia General Assembly, representing a district in Fairfax County, a Democratic-leaning region of the Washington suburbs.