Eighteen months before Election Day, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will hold his first campaign event of the 2013 gubernatorial race.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, right, gestures as he is joined by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, left, as they announce their legislative agenda at the Capitol Jan. 4. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The dinner is designed to rally forces for the 2012 elections and begin laying the foundation for his 2013 campaign, according to an e-mail to supporters.

“Since taking office in 2010 Governor McDonnell and I have worked hard to get our state back on the right track and show what results oriented, conservative leadership can do,’’ Bolling wrote. “While we are pleased with the progress we have made so far, there is a lot of work left to be done, and with your support I am prepared to lead that effort.”

McDonnell backs Bolling in what is expected to be a contentious race against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the GOP nomination.

Three years ago, Bolling and then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) made a deal: McDonnell would run unopposed for the GOP nomination for governor, and four years later McDonnell would back Bolling for the state’s top job. But the pact did not include Cuccinelli, and he surprised Bolling by announcing for governor in December.

Since Cuccinelli’s announcement, Bolling has refocused a network of volunteers and embarked on a fundraising tour, while Cuccinelli has pursued support from powerful business leaders. Both have looked at hiring staff.

Cuccinelli has started raising money, but has no held no public events.

“Attorney General Cuccinelli believes that the presidential election of 2012 is the most important election that he will ever live through, and he is committed to taking all reasonable steps to ensure that Virginia returns its 13 electoral votes to the Republican candidate for President,’’ Cuccinelli political director Noah Wall said. “You will see Ken’s campaign raising money, having a presence at Republican and community events, etc, however our focus is on taking things one election at a time.’’

Bolling has endorsed presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Senate hopeful George Allen, while Cuccinelli has declined to get involved in the primary contest. But they men say they will work hard this year to defeat Democrats for both offices.