Neither is the kind of candidate Virginians have tended to support in the commonwealth’s off-year elections for governor.
In fact, Bolling said Wednesday that he would not back Cuccinelli and did not dismiss a possible independent run.
“I have serious reservations about his ability to effectively and responsibly lead our state,” Bolling said of Cuccinelli. “Given those reservations, I could not in good conscience endorse his candidacy for governor.”
Bolling’s decision to drop out and U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner’s announcement that he will not seek another term as governor have left the state’s electorate with a stark choice.
“Virginia’s very much a purple state,” said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst with the Rothenberg Political Report. “Assuming Terry McAuliffe is the nominee, you have two people that aren’t really toward the center of the party. You have this growing independent base in Virginia, that’s really where the race could be won, and we haven’t really seen either one try to talk to that yet.”
Both candidates evoke strong partisan passions. As attorney general, Cuccinelli has gained national attention by challenging climate change research, going after the federal health-care overhaul in the courts and supporting stricter rules for the state’s abortion clinics. McAuliffe, a longtime McLean resident, has been viewed as a Virginia outsider and a Washington insider. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he often appeared on TV talk shows to advocate the party line.
Cuccinelli gained a clear advantage over Bolling in June, when Cuccinelli’s supporters took control of the State Central Committee and changed the nomination method from a statewide primary to a party convention. Conventions, which are attended by party regulars, tend to favor conservatives.
Although the field is narrowing, with nearly a year to go until the next governor is chosen, it is not necessarily set.
Tareq Salahi, the vintner who was accused of crashing a state dinner at the White House, has said he plans to seek the GOP nomination, though he is not seen as a threat to Cuccinelli. And Democratic former congressman Tom Perriello has quietly approached prominent members of his party in recent weeks to let them know that he is at least considering the idea, according to people familiar with the talks.
Bolling said his party’s about-face on the nominating process “created too many obstacles for us to overcome.” He also said a divisive convention battle could do long-term harm to the state party, which was unsuccessful in the presidential and U.S. Senate contests this year.