From Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Va., one could hear the collective sighs of relief from Republicans on Tuesday over the announcement from the Old Dominion’s Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling that he would not launch a gubernatorial bid as an independent.
A Republican in his second-term in statewide office, Bolling’s announcement gives clear sailing for state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in a head-to-head match-up with Democratic heavyweight Terry McAuliffe.
Had Bolling opted to “go rogue” as an independent contender in a three-candidate race, he could have doomed the chances of Cuccinelli, the certain Republican nominee, and tip a sure-to-be tight contest to McAuliffe, onetime national chairman of his party and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The most recent Quinnipiac Poll bears out Republican fears that Bolling could have tilted the race to the Democrats. While Cuccinelli and McAuliffe were tied among likely Virginia voters at 38 percent each, the same poll shows that in a three-candidate bout, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 34 to 31 percent, with Bolling drawing 13 percent.
In a year when the White House will surely take a victory in any political contest and hold it up as a sign that the president’s agenda is meeting popular approval, national political tremors would certainly be felt if Democrats retake the Virginia statehouse after four years of conservative GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell.
But Bolling — himself a conservative and past state chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign — chose the better part of valor and put aside what many state GOP activists insist was pure spite for Cuccinelli and his supporters.
By managing to have his political allies on the Virginia GOP committee vote for a state convention instead of a primary as the nomination procedure for statewide candidates, Cuccinelli put Bolling at a disadvantage for a gubernatorial bid as a Republican, ruffling feathers in the process
“Cooch,” as the attorney general is widely known, is a favorite of the tea partiers for leading the charge in court against Obamacare and is popular with social conservatives for his strong stands on abortion and marriage.
In Virginia, a convention attracts activists who tend to be more conservative than primary voters. But a primary gives a moderate, or less-conservative-sounding candidate, as Bolling surely is next to Cuccinelli, at least a fighting chance.
Since there is no party registration in Virginia, and voters who are historically Democratic or independent can vote in any statewide contest, Bolling had a chance to defeat Cuccinelli in a primary but surely would not have done so at a convention.
So Bolling opted out of the race for nomination to the office he passed on four years ago, when he deferred to McDonnell, who under state law is limited to one term as governor.
Although independents rarely win at the statewide level in most states, Bolling was initially encouraged by the modern history of independents in Virginia.
Sen. Harry Byrd, Jr. was a Democrat from 1965-70, but won his last two terms in 1970 and 1976 as a “Byrd Independent” against the nominees of the major parties. In 1971, State Sen. “Howlin’ Henry” Howell, a favorite of organized labor and liberals, won a special election for the office of lieutenant governor as an independent.
Right up to the moment he made his announcement on Tuesday, Bolling-watchers insisted he would make an independent bid. Others close to the lieutenant governor said he was reluctant to make a renegade race but was being pushed in that direction by supporters who intensely dislike the Cuccinelli organization.
“The vast majority of [Bolling’s] current and past supporters have advised him against such a decision [to run],” former Prince William County, Va., Supervisor John Stirrup, a friend of both Bolling and Cuccinelli and longtime party activist, told me.
That he decided not to run, and moved up his announcement by two days, is evidence Bolling listened to them.
John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for the conservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.
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