This week Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will decide whether to get into the Virginia governor’s race as an independent. Republicans fear he’ll drain votes from the uber-conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli while Democrats are fretful he might take some from the hapless Democratic moneyman Terry McAuliffe.


Ken Cuccinelli (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Cuccinelli’s team says the campaign is just getting revved up. The general assembly session just ended, during which Cuccinelli was not allowed to fund raise. But there is widespread concern, quite apart from his strident social conservatism that may turnoff suburban moderates, that he still hasn’t put together a compelling message or agenda.

Cuccinelli faces a few challenges of his own making. Whether or not Bolling runs, they heighten the unease with his candidacy that led Bolling to reconsider a run and some major business leaders to call for an alternative.

First, Cuccinelli has decided to stay on as attorney general, defying state custom. The Post reports, “Cuccinelli broke with a tradition started in 1957 and ended a streak dating to 1985. Since then, six straight Virginia attorneys general have resigned to run for the state’s top job.” Cuccinelli fired back that he’d be criticized if he left his position early, but the move put him on defense. Moreover, for a candidate accusing opponent McAuliffe of being a carpetbagging national pol who doesn’t understand the state, it’s unwise to fuel the perception that he also is not adhering to the Virginia playbook.

Second, Cuccinelli wrote a book and began promoting it on talk radio shows. Again, this plays into the perception he’s no more Virginia in temperament and style than McAuliffe and really has is eye on national office or at least a higher national profile.

And lastly, as I have written here at Right Turn, he has no discernible agenda or specific policy items. Why is he running? What does he want to accomplish? If he opposed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan, would he seek to repeal it? His staff gives the assurances that more detail is coming, but the longer he waits the more the news vacuum gets filled with negative stories.

Right now the polls show the race is tied and most voters haven’t tuned in. That gives Cuccinelli an opportunity to restart his race and begin filling in the blanks before his opponent does. He should do that regardless of whether Bolling gets into the race.

There are several things he could do in short order. First, he can pledge to enforce existing anti-abortion laws but not add to or change them. As attorney general he can credibly say no more legislation is needed or constitutional. His reassurance of protecting the status quo would give some measure of comfort to those wary of him launching a social issues crusade.

He can also come out with an actual agenda. What does he want to do on education (especially the over-crowded state university system.)? If he doesn’t like McDonnell’s transportation plan, what is his idea? How is he going to handle the challenge of sequester, which greatly affects in-state federal government contractors and military personnel? Does he have an energy plan? He needs to give voters a positive image of a can-do candidate and begin to erase the perception he is merely a pep-talker for the right. (Speaking at CPAC this week, he would be smart to show some restraint and show how his conservative values will fit into Virginia.)

Finally, he would be wise to start giving the voters a sense of who he is and convincing them he isn’t a scary extremist, but a smart and convivial family man. Some ads when he looks directly into the camera or where his wife tells voters who he is would help. He’ll need to do more reaching out to local and national media and start putting together a team of capable surrogates.

There is no certainty that Bolling will run or whether he will draw votes primarily from Cuccinelli. But unless Cuccinelli gets his act together quickly, he will find himself in an endless string of accusations and attacks, never getting to lay out a positive message of what sort of governor he wants to be. The next month or so will be critical for him.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.