Our View: Bolling in, or out?

Posted: February 25, 2013

As the nation focuses this week on the most recent installment of the “fiscal cliff” fiasco in Washington (actually that phrase has now moved aside in favor of “sequestration”), Virginians not fretting about the potential impact of automatic defense cuts set for March 1 may be turning their attention to a more famous March date: the Ides of March.

As students of history recall, the Ides of March is the 15th of the month, made famous as the day in 44 B.C. that Julius Caesar was assassinated. We certainly expect no such drama on that day in 2013, but observers of Virginia politics know when that date comes, the stage will be set for the race for governor.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is the de-facto nominee, as he is the lone candidate for the nomination to come in May. Mr. Cuccinelli is in full campaign mode, including the requisite book tour, prompting critics to call for him to resign his day job if he wants to campaign full-time.

If Mr. Cuccinelli does make that move this spring, it certainly won’t be the first (or likely the last) time a sitting officeholder resigns to concentrate on higher office.

On the Democratic side, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe seems to be cruising to the nomination, as Sen. Mark Warner declined early on to seek election to a second term in Richmond, preferring the battles in Washington.

The race is close. As Politico reported last week, a recent Quinnipiac poll finds the two candidates effectively tied at this point. Both men poll currently at 38 percent, but 21 percent of those canvassed remain undecided — revealing, as Politico notes, that “it’s clear many voters in the state haven’t starting paying attention to the race yet.”

So, back to the Ides of March and its significance to this contest. Political observers in the Old Dominion know that current Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who abandoned his race for the Republican nomination when the right wing of the party succeeded in changing the selection process from a primary to a convention — effectively sealing the deal for Mr. Cuccinelli — has said he will decide by March 14 whether to launch an independent bid.

Thus, come the Ides of March, Virginians should know whether they will be facing a trio of options in a race that will certainly gain national attention in the off-year election cycle.

As Robert McCartney of The Washington Post wrote last week, Mr. Bolling is now “in a unique position, rare among politicians, to say what he really thinks.”

And so the lieutenant governor did, telling Mr. McCartney and the Post that “[i]t’s just a challenging time for the Republican Party when a conservative, mainstream guy like me really doesn’t really feel comfortable with his party” and then adding, “The party has moved too far, and it’s become too extreme and ideological.”

Those are strong words from a man who won the No. 2 elected office in the state twice on the Republican ticket, but they stop short of landing him headfirst in the race. He acknowledged that “[i]t would require between $10 million and $15 million to run a credible race” and that “donors are typically wary of independent bids.”

Whether Mr. Bolling takes the plunge by the Ides of March remains to be seen, but Mr. McCartney did note the lieutenant governor “has shed 45 pounds in the past year.” Or, as Mr. Bolling said, “I’m getting into fighting weight.”

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see if he joins the fray.