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Pairing Might Be Last, Best Hope for GOP Establishment

As Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, left, seeks reelection and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell plans a run for governor, the GOP could have a formidable ticket.
As Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, left, seeks reelection and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell plans a run for governor, the GOP could have a formidable ticket. (Alexa Welch Edlund - AP)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008

RICHMOND After being out of the governor's mansion for most of this decade, Virginia Republicans faced a choice for 2009.

They could have a free-for-all nomination battle to settle on a new generation of leaders that would take them into the next decade -- and hopefully back into the governor's mansion -- or claw their way back into power by rallying behind a leader early on.

Last week, they might have delivered their answer.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced that he will seek reelection rather than run for governor. Bolling's decision might have effectively handed the GOP nomination for governor to Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell.

McDonnell plans to formally announce his candidacy for governor in a few months. He and Bolling plan to run as a team.

On paper, McDonnell and Bolling would be a formidable ticket.

Having grown up in Fairfax County and relocated to Virginia Beach as an adult, McDonnell could have appeal in the two vote-rich regions of the state that have been trending Democratic. Bolling would balance out the ticket geographically because he grew up in southwest Virginia and has lived as an adult in suburban Richmond.

A former Army colonel, McDonnell probably would appeal to the estimated 800,000 veterans who live in Virginia. And although he is closely aligned with the conservative wing of the party, many Democrats in Richmond say McDonnell comes across as fairly pragmatic and is surprisingly bipartisan in how he conducts his office.

There is still plenty of time for another GOP candidate to emerge, but McDonnell's r¿sum¿ and his ties to Northern Virginia have some Republicans assuming he is a heavy favorite to win next year.

But that's a risky assumption for Virginia Republicans, who might be desperate to win next year, especially if former governor Mark R. Warner (D) continues the recent string of Democratic successes by winning his bid for the U.S. Senate this year.

McDonnell and Bolling are a perfect match to secure the GOP base of social conservatives, which should guarantee them at least 46 percent of the vote in next year's election. They each would need 50 percent to win, assuming no third-party or independent candidate steps in.

Neither McDonnell nor Bolling has demonstrated an ability to bring new voters into the GOP or reach out to the state's increasingly diverse electorate.

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