Unhindered by Everyday Fray, Bolling Sees His Star Rise

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2008

RICHMOND In a legislative session that has been marred by partisan bickering, it's doubtful many legislators or Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) will emerge as political winners before the General Assembly's scheduled adjournment Saturday.

But at least one politician, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), has seen his stock soar this year just in time to launch his expected 2009 bid for governor.

Bolling's growing political fortunes stem from his role as president of a closely divided Senate, which has enabled him to bolster his profile. But the lieutenant governor's duties come with few other responsibilities, allowing Bolling to watch from the sidelines as his chief rival for the GOP nomination for governor, Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, struggles with the everyday realities of being the state's top law enforcement officer.

A year ago, McDonnell was considered to be the front-runner for the GOP nomination in a Bolling-McDonnell matchup. McDonnell has a better platform to get his name in the media, reach out to the conservative Republican base and raise the money needed to wage a competitive campaign.

McDonnell might have been looking ahead to a general election campaign for governor.

Worried about GOP losses in Northern Virginia, McDonnell was a key player in bringing Senate and House Republicans together last year to try to fashion a deal to raise more revenue for transportation.

The negotiations, which McDonnell facilitated, culminated in a $1.1 billion deal that was supposed to prove to Northern Virginia voters that the GOP was serious about relieving traffic congestion.

Although conservatives didn't like the plan because it included higher taxes, there didn't appear to be much political risk for McDonnell, who looked as if he were assuming the role of the party's leader.

Bolling was relegated to a role of "me, too," sending out news release after news release, trying to stay relevant.

But in the months that followed, the transportation plan that was supposed to be one of McDonnell's signature accomplishments has become a hindrance to his gubernatorial aspirations.

First came the unpopular abusive-driver fees, which McDonnell's office was forced to defend in court. Last week the Virginia Supreme Court ruled parts of the transportation plan unconstitutional, a blow to McDonnell.

Some GOP lawmakers even blamed his office for the court's decision, saying state attorneys gave them bad information in the spring about the legality of how the regional transportation plans were structured.


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