By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
RICHMOND, March 24 -- Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced Monday that he will run for reelection next year instead of seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
Bolling said he will support Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) for governor. McDonnell could emerge as the front-runner for the nomination in a race that could determine whether the GOP can regain its appeal with voters or whether the Democrats have the edge in statewide elections.
McDonnell will not formally announce his plans for a few months, but he said in a letter to supporters that he will run as a team with Bolling.
"A McDonnell-Bolling ticket will be a strong ticket and can beat anything the Democrats throw our way," Bolling said.
McDonnell and Bolling consider themselves social and economic conservatives. Many analysts said Bolling would have had more influence with the anti-tax and social conservative base of the GOP.
Bolling's plans to seek reelection could upset the political futures of several Northern Virginia officials who were planning to launch statewide campaigns in 2009.
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart and former state senator James K. "Jay" O'Brien of Fairfax had been campaigning for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. Both have indicated they will step aside should Bolling seek a second term.
Bolling, a former state senator who represented suburban Richmond, said he decided not to run for governor because he has a family and a growing insurance business.
"I have a number of other personal and professional commitments in my life that currently prevent me from dedicating the time that is needed to run an effective and successful gubernatorial campaign, at least not in 2009," Bolling said.
Bolling's announcement comes two months after another high-profile conservative, former U.S. senator George Allen, said he would not be a candidate for governor. Many of the state's Republican members of Congress, including Tom Davis, have indicated no interest in running for governor next year.
Bolling said that by supporting McDonnell, he is sending a signal that he wants the GOP to be unified next year. Marred by internal divisions, a president whose popularity has slipped and changing demographics in vote-rich Northern Virginia, Republicans lost the past two races for governor and the 2006 U.S. Senate race. Many analysts have said that former governor Mark R. Warner (D) is a favorite to win this year's U.S. Senate race.
Virginia is now a purple state, Bolling said, so Republicans need to redouble their efforts to be competitive in statewide elections. He predicted his decision will also bolster the GOP in this year's Senate and presidential races because party leaders won't be distracted by the 2009 campaign.
Although another GOP candidate could still emerge, McDonnell could have millions of dollars in the bank heading into the general election if he can avoid a fight for the nomination.
He can also focus on burnishing his credentials with moderate swing voters, such as highlighting his efforts to crack down on child predators, instead of being dragged into a fight with Bolling over who is more conservative on abortion and other social issues.
"The Republican Party will move into the 2009 statewide elections united," McDonnell said in a statement. "As I begin to prepare for my campaign for governor, I look forward to running next year with Bill as a ticket."
With Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) barred from seeking a second consecutive term, Democrats are facing their first contested primary for governor in more than two decades.
Del. Brian J. Moran (Alexandria) and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), who narrowly lost to McDonnell in the 2005 race for attorney general, have indicated they plan to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.
Aides to Moran and Deeds said Monday that they doubt either one will step aside to give the other a clean shot at the nomination.
McDonnell, who grew up Fairfax County but relocated as an adult to Virginia Beach, is popular among military veterans and hoped to beat Bolling in a primary by performing well in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
"Having the prospect of a fight between me and the attorney general removed is probably one that will bring some comfort to folks," Bolling said.
Despite Bolling's call for party unity, his decision not to run for governor rested on his personal finances.
In Virginia, the part-time lieutenant governor earns $36,321 a year. Bolling and a group of associates started an insurance business five years ago, which Bolling said is still maturing and prevents him from devoting the amount of time needed to wage a credible campaign.
"I have to work for a living, just like each of you, to pay the mortgage, college tuition, the power bill and the rest," said Bolling, who has two sons.