Bolling offers alternative in a dismal contest

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Print this page by Robert Powell

Bill Bolling may have found his moment.

The Republican lieutenant governor is expected to announce by March 14 whether he will run for governor as an independent. Bolling dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination in November, conceding that he didn’t have a chance against conservative firebrand Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in a June nominating convention dominated by the party’s right wing.

Since then, Bolling has been flirting with the idea of an independent candidacy, possibly building a ticket with other independent candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Most of the time, such campaigns are inconsequential. In 2005, Republican state Sen. Russell Potts garnered only 2.2 percent of the vote when he ran for governor as an independent against Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore.

This time, however, may be different. Bolling, a well-known political figure statewide, could have an outside shot of making it to the Executive Mansion because of the dismal dilemma now facing Virginia voters, a choice between Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Both men want to claim the “Bob’s for Jobs” mantle used so effectively by Gov. Bob McDonnell in his 2009 campaign.

McAuliffe is making his second stab at running for governor based on his credentials as a businessman. His record didn’t persuade enough Democrats in 2009 when a Washington Post editorial endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds was enough to defeat McAuliffe in the primary.

McAuliffe appears to have spent much of the past four years trying to build his case as someone who can bring jobs to Virginia. One of those efforts involved buying a Chinese car company that he relocated to the United States. The company’s manufacturing operations, however, wound up in Mississippi, not Virginia.

McAuliffe’s explanation was the Virginia Economic Development Partnership wasn’t interested in his plans. PolitiFact Virginia, however, concluded after an exhaustive study of communications between VEDP and McAuliffe’s company, GreenTech Automotive, that the company continually failed to provide information VEDP requested. PolitiFact labeled McAuliffe’s claim “false.” I wonder why it didn’t receive PolitiFact’s more emphatic description “Pants on Fire.”

Cuccinelli, his handlers say, also plans to campaign on economic issues. Oddly, jobs are not the first thing that come to mind with Cuccinelli, who has made headlines by suggesting that Catholic bishops should go to jail in acts of civil disobedience; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has become too liberal; and Social Security recipients are pawns trapped in a cycle of government dependence.

In contrast to these pretenders, Bolling has a legitimate claim to be the only candidate with a real economic development record. He has been the “chief jobs creation officer” under McDonnell during the past four years. If you think “Bob’s for Jobs” was good for Virginia, then “Get Rolling with Bolling” would appear to be a natural extension.

Bolling’s connection to McDonnell brings up another point in his favor, a sense of fair play among Virginia gentlemen. Bolling and McDonnell were lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, during the term of Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine  (now a U.S. senator). Bolling stepped aside in 2009 to let McDonnell have the Republican nomination. The lieutenant governor, in turn, had McDonnell’s support for his long-awaited shot at the commonwealth’s top job.  Cuccinelli, however, let it be known he would not wait in line for anyone.  As a result of a conservative takeover of the Republican state central committee, the nomination process was changed from a primary to a convention, a switch that heavily favored Cuccinelli.

Bolling has refused to endorse Cuccinelli and appears to be finding his own voice in state affairs after cleaving to the McDonnell administration line for most of the past four years. He opposed uranium mining in Southern Virginia and supported the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia.

McAuliffe, in fact, appears ready to neutralize Bolling’s appeal, saying that he would like to have the lieutenant governor join his administration.

But would Bolling actually be more help to McAuliffe as an independent spoiler in the governor’s race, peeling moderate Republican votes away from Cuccinelli? That appears to be the conventional wisdom, but University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato disagrees. “Bolling has been taking very moderate positions and as a consequence, I could see him taking a lot of votes from both candidates,” he told the Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Maybe it’s time to have a third choice for governor. If not Bill Bolling, then maybe this entry, which appears on ballots in Nevada, “none of the above.”

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