Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a tea party favorite whose causes have prompted national headlines, is widely expected to win the nomination if the Republicans hold a convention. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, running as a pragmatic problem-solver in the mold of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, is fighting to hold a primary.
In Virginia, the parties choose how to nominate their candidates. A primary is open to all voters — with more than 100,000 casting ballots in recent years — while a convention is attended by a few thousand die-hard activists elected by the party at the local level for the day-long event. Republicans have alternated between primaries and conventions in recent years; Democrats have usually opted for a primary.
In the final days before Friday’s GOP board meeting, both sides are trying to line up votes, with Cuccinelli and Bolling making calls personally. The decision rests with a handful of undecided board members, but Cuccinelli and those who favor a convention are expected to prevail. Bolling has hired high-profile elections lawyer Jan Baran to look at legal options in case that happens.
Others in the party just want supporters to return their attention to the critical races of 2012 for president and U.S. Senate. Virginia’s choices could be crucial in determining who resides in the White House and which party controls the Senate.
Former congressman Tom Davis, a moderate Republican from Northern Virginia, has long preferred primaries to make the party more inclusive, but he said he is not endorsing a candidate in the race. Instead, he is holding events for both men.
“I hope it will resolve itself,’’ he said of the nominating process.
That’s proving to be difficult, though.
The Republican State Central Committee, after lobbying by Bolling, voted overwhelmingly in October to hold a primary to select nominees for all statewide races in 2013. Six candidates for Virginia’s three statewide elected positions have started fundraising and built strategy based on the assumption that they would compete in a primary. Courts have previously not allowed a change after that has happened.
But Cuccinelli backers succeeded in winning a number of new spots on the state board over the past couple of months, prompting the issue to be reconsidered. Some of the winners — conservative party activists and supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas — ran on a platform of holding a convention next year.
“I believe it is improper and unfair to candidates and Republican voters to change the rules in the middle of the game,” Bolling wrote in a recent letter to the committee.
On Friday, Bolling launched an online petition soliciting support for a primary.