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Bolling suspends campaign for governor


Citing the divisive nature of the nomination convention that will determine the Republican candidate for governor next year, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced Wednesday that he’s suspending his own campaign.

Bolling’s decision leaves Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as the likely Republican candidate for governor, setting up a potential matchup next year between Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Tareq Salahi—who gained fame when he and his now ex-wife crashed a White House state dinner in 2009—is also running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Bolling’s announcement, made in an email Wednesday morning, came as a surprise. Less than two weeks ago, he’d sent out a statement to supporters saying that he was “the only Republican candidate who can actually defeat the Democrats and win next November. Polling has shown that I can defeat Terry McAuliffe, the likely Democrat nominee, while McAuliffe will defeat Ken Cuccinelli.”

But in his announcement Wednesday, Bolling said he was stepping aside because the convention process is “divisive.”

“The convention process would have forced Republican activists to take sides against their friends in local committees all across our state,” Bolling said. “The wounds that can develop from that type of process are often difficult to heal. Conventions are by their very nature exclusive, and at a time when we need to be projecting a positive image and reaching out to involve more Virginians in the Republican Party, I am unwilling to be part of a process that could seriously damage our image and appeal.”

Bolling has been running for governor for years. In 2009, he also agreed to step aside, that time in favor of now-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s candidacy, and ran instead for a second term as lieutenant governor—making it plain all the while that he would be running for governor in 2013, with McDonnell’s support. But last year, Cuccinelli announced that he, too, would run for governor, setting up a nomination fight between the two.

Bolling is viewed as the more moderate of the two, a Chamber of Commerce, establishment Republican who would attract a similar-thinking wing of the party. Cuccinelli—better-known than Bolling for his high-profile court battles and social conservatism—is seen as the more conservative candidate, the one who would appeal to Republicans whose primary concerns include personal liberties and social issues.

Then this summer, the state GOP’s leaders decided to switch their nominating process from a primary—which Bolling had favored—to a convention, in which Cuccinelli was expected to have the upper hand, since conventions typically draw a more conservative slice of the GOP. Bolling scrambled to reconfigure his campaign, which had been planning for a primary.

“While I did not support that decision, it had a dramatic impact on the 2013 campaign,” he said in Wednesday’s statement. “For the past several months my campaign team has worked hard to restructure our campaign to effectively compete in the convention process. While we have made a great deal of progress, I reluctantly concluded that the decision to change the method of nomination from a primary to a convention created too many obstacles for us to overcome.”

A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month indicated that McAuliffe had a very slight edge over both Bolling and Cuccinelli. But it also showed Cuccinelli had much higher name recognition than Bolling.

Bolling said suspending his campaign was “a very difficult decision” that he knows will disappoint supporters.

“Not everything we want in life is meant to be,” he said.

Cuccinelli and Bolling have had a tense relationship since Cuccinelli’s decision to enter the race. After this month’s national elections, for example, Bolling said the results showed the importance of nominating electable Republican candidates, not an “ideological firebrand.”

Bolling didn’t indicate whether he might run for a third term as lieutenant governor, saying that he and his wife “will be evaluating our future political options.” He did say that he’ll be involved in the 2013 campaigns as “a more independent voice, making certain that the candidates keep their focus on the important issues facing our state and offer a positive and realistic vision for effectively and responsibly leading Virginia.”

In a statement of his own, Cuccinelli praised Bolling’s service.

“Throughout this race, I have kept to the premise that Bill and I are allies in governance, even if temporary competitors in politics,” Cuccinelli said. “Bill Bolling is a good man—a true public servant who has worked hard throughout his career to make Virginia a better place to live and raise our families. I cannot speak highly enough of his service. I will honor the Lt. Governor’s service by campaigning for Governor as we both pledged to govern when we were sworn in, in 2010.”

McDonnell, who had been backing Bolling, put out a statement praising Bolling, crediting his 2009 decision to step aside for the Republicans’ victories in Virginia elections that year. He also, at the end, put his support behind Cuccinelli.

“Now, as we prepare for the 2013 campaign, I look forward to helping elect Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as the next Governor of Virginia,” McDonnell said.

Politicians from both parties moved quickly to brand the other side’s candidate as the extremist in the race.

In a statement, McAuliffe said he’s disappointed that “more mainstream Virginia Republicans are being driven out of leadership by the far-right.

“Virginia voters have repeatedly made clear that they prefer mainstream leaders building consensus instead of politicians pursuing their own ideological agenda,” McAuliffe added. “I intend on running a campaign that will unite Virginians across parties who share my focus putting job creation and common sense fiscal responsibility above divisive partisan crusades.”

The Republican Governor’s Association, in its own statement, praised Bolling and Cuccinelli before lobbing a shot at McAuliffe.

“While Ken has devoted his public life to making sure Virginia is a great place to raise a family and start business, Chairman McAuliffe has spent the last two decades as a Democratic fundraiser showing no interest in Virginia issues until running a losing campaign for governor,” said the statement.

Bolling has scheduled a press conference for Thursday this morning to further explain his decision.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028