The opening battle of the 2013 GOP gubernatorial primary is underway, in the form of a primary-vs-convention fight. And Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) is pulling out the big guns: active duty military.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R),left, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) walk to the steps of the Capitol in January. (Tracy A. Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“On behalf of the 35,785 Virginians currently serving on active duty in our armed forces, I object to the proposal to nominate the gubernatorial candidate by convention, because active duty service members would thereby be disenfranchised,” wrote retired Navy Capt. Samuel F. Wright, director of the law center.

“The Virginians on active duty are serving in other states or in places like Afghanistan,” Wright said. “They are paying Virginia state income tax, through withholding from their military salaries, regardless of where the service of our country takes them. Thus, they should be given the full opportunity to participate in the nomination as well as election of the state officials who spend their tax dollars.”

Even if they could overcome the logistical hurdle of returning to Virginia for a convention, the service members could not surmount a Defense Department directive forbidding them from participating in partisan political conventions, Wright wrote.

The service members are entitled to vote in primaries, something they can do by absentee ballot if they are out of state or overseas.

Bolling, who is running for governor in 2013 and favors primaries, faces a tough nomination fight against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), who prefers conventions. Many political observers believe a convention, which is likely to be dominated by party activists, would favor the outspoken attorney general over the more understated lieutenant governor.

The State Central Committee decided in October to hold a primary, not a convention, to select the party’s nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013. But Cuccinelli supporters, who won a number of new spots on the state GOP’s governing board in recent weeks, have asked that the question be reconsidered at the committee’s meeting Friday.

Cuccinelli said after he got into the race in December that he would not try to change the nomination method. He said recently that he is not behind current the effort to do so.