“They’ve been out and about,” former Republican lieutenant governor John Hager said with droll understatement. “I think they’re both concentrating on doing a lot of media and gaining visibility.”
Hager says he believes, as Bolling and Cuccinelli insist, that the two kept their eyes on the presidential race all week and that they will continue to do so through November. But the convention gave both Republicans ample opportunity to boost their prospects for next year’s nomination for governor along with Mitt Romney’s for president. And wherever they could, they made Tampa a twofer.
“It is mixing, mingling, networking,” said former Virginia congressman Tom Davis. “These are the people next year that are going to be key to making the decision.”
That will be especially true in the Bolling-Cuccinelli contest because of a decision to dump a primary election planned for next year in favor of a caucus. The Republican State Central Committee decided in October that it would hold a primary election in 2013. But a band of Cuccinelli supporters newly elected to the party’s governing board got that decision revisited and reversed in June. The about-face is expected to favor the firebrand attorney general over the more understated lieutenant governor because of the sort of voters who tend to participate in conventions.
“You have to take a day off and go to Richmond to vote. It’s a full Saturday. If you live in Northern Virginia, you have to take a day out of your life — and maybe two days,” Davis said. “The nomination belongs not to the party, but to the activists. And this is where the activists are.”
Bolling and Cuccinelli appealed to those activists in different ways as they went about the main business of rallying the Romney and Paul Ryan troops in Tampa. One spent lots of time with the delegation. The other grabbed more of the national spotlight that has endeared him to home-state tea partiers.
Bolling, the folksy consensus-builder, not only addressed the Virginia delegation one morning at a breakfast, but also stayed with its members in a Clearwater, Fla., hotel to allow for more mixing and mingling. Cuccinelli, a provocateur, lodged closer to the convention action and national media in Tampa, at a hotel hosting attorneys general from across the country. He went to the Clearwater Marriott to give a breakfast speech of his own, but it was a policy address, not a Bolling-style stemwinder.
Cuccinelli did 10 to 15 interviews during the convention. Many were quick, unscheduled pop-ins along “radio row” set up near the convention hall. But he did some national TV, including the PBS NewsHour program. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, featured him at a forum.