RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's crusading conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has decided to run for governor in 2013, touching off a fierce, two-year clash for the Republican nomination, a senior GOP official close to Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli's decision, first reported in the Washington Post Wednesday, roils the upper reaches of the party in the same month that the GOP took a working majority in the state Senate, consolidating its grip on policymaking in Virginia.
The Republican official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for Cuccinelli. But The Washington Post reported that 43-year-old Cuccinelli is expected to announce within days.
Cuccinelli had served two terms in the state Senate when he was elected in a 2009 GOP statewide landslide, just one year after Democrats had routed Virginia's GOP in the presidential election. He was among the first state attorneys general to file suit challenging President Barack Obama's health care reform law just days after a Democratic Congress approved it.
He has become a darling of Virginia's tea party movement and a devil to Democrats for his aggressive efforts to dismantle their landmark initiatives. He's also had become a staple for television comedians and pundits for some of his actions in his first two years in office.
He invoked the wrath of university administrators by advising state colleges that they lack the legal authority to protect gay employees from discrimination.
And he was lampooned by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and others for voicing distaste over the bare-breasted goddess Virtus depicted on the Great Seal of Virginia standing over the body of a vanquished tyrant over the slogan "Sic Semper Tyrannis," or "thus always to tyrants."
A top deputy to Cuccinelli in the attorney general's office, Rick Neel, declined to comment on the reports of his boss's candidacy.
Cuccinelli had said for months that while he would not rule out a run for governor at some point, he was content to seek re-election in 2013, virtually guaranteeing Republican possession of the attorney general's office for a sixth straight term. That heartened Republicans eager to add to gains in the General Assembly in November's elections.
That had been a comfort to Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, 54, who seemed positioned as the party's uncontested heir-apparent to popular GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell. Bolling coolly greeted the surprise of Cuccinelli's plans to enter the race.
"Lieutenant Governor Bolling has made clear that he intends to run for governor in 2013 and we hope that Ken will be a part of our ticket. We think that would be best for the Republican Party," said Bolling's chief of staff, Randy Marcus.
Bolling in 2009 held his gubernatorial aspirations in check, deferring to McDonnell by seeking a second term as lieutenant. Marcus noted that Bolling "set aside his personal ambition" for a united ticket then, as McDonnell, Bolling and Cuccinelli took the top three statewide offices of Virginia government.
"That worked well in 2009 and it's the right approach in 2013," Marcus said.
In the afterglow of in this fall's legislative triumphs, other Republican leaders also relished the prospect of a harmonious run into the 2013 elections, allowing them to build campaign organizations and stockpile cash to use against Democrats, not in a bitter intramural nomination battle for their ticket's top spot.
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