Is Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling really bowing out of the Virginia governor’s race — or simply changing gears to run as an independent?

Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling inside the Senate Chambers on Jan. 11, 2012. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

Bolling’s statement doesn’t say he is suspending his campaign for governor, just his “campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for Governor of Virginia.”

“I intend to remain actively involved in the 2013 campaigns – perhaps not as the Republican nominee for Governor, but as a more independent voice, making certain that the candidates keep their focus on the important issues facing our state and offer a positive and realistic vision for effectively and responsibly leading Virginia,” Bolling said in his statement.

Boyd Marcus, a top adviser to the Bolling campaign, did not refute the suggestion that Bolling could run as an independent.

“I can say that’s certainly an interpretation that you could make from the statement he issued,” said Marcus, a veteran Richmond consultant, adding that he expects that to be “a topic of conversation” when Bolling speaks to the media Thursday.

Bob Holsworth, a longtime Richmond political analyst and former Virginia Commonwealth University professor, is among those who think Bolling is mulling an independent bid.

“It’s a combination withdrawal and trial balloon,” Holsworth said of the statement.

Holsworth said he spoke personally with Bolling and came away from the conversation thinking the Republican is considering a run as an independent. Holsworth said Bolling did not explicitly say so, but he said the lieutenant governor spoke about potential dissatisfaction with the likely Republican and Democratic nominees — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R)and Terry McAuliffe, the former head of the national Democratic Party.

“We talked about his qualifications, spoke about how there may be significant dissatisfaction with the two candidates,” Holsworth said. “As we got off the phone, he said, ‘The last statement said I intend to remain an independent voice. That’s something you should highlight.’”

One Bolling supporter, who is not being named so he can speak freely, said there could be an opening for Bolling as an independent, especially with the business community, where “there are a lot of people who thought that Bolling was the best of the three”among him, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.

Ben Pershing contributed to this post.