RICHMOND — Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who exited the race for governor this year and has called GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli II “too extreme” for mainstream voters, has launched a political action committee aimed at recruiting like-minded Republicans to run for office in the state.
Bolling said Wednesday that he envisions the Virginia Mainstream Project as a combination of bully pulpit and think tank that will advise and recruit candidates, particularly for this fall’s House of Delegates elections and state Senate races in 2015.
“I found myself in a position of being the voice of a lot of mainstream Republicans across the state who were trying to call our party back to a more mainstream approach to politics and policy,” Bolling said in an interview. “It’s not a role I envisioned playing, but it’s a role I was thrust into because of the way things have evolved, and it’s a role I’m comfortable playing.”
Paperwork to create the PAC was filed Tuesday, and Bolling transferred about $492,000 from his campaign committee to the project, according to campaign finance records. The PAC will be raising additional funds to support such purposes as economic development, transportation, education and health care.
Bolling’s announcement came two days before the Republican state convention in Richmond, where delegates will choose candidates for statewide office in the 2013 election. Bolling, whose decision to drop out of the race left Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, as the sole GOP gubernatorial candidate, won’t be attending the convention.
Cuccinelli is running against businessman Terry McAuliffe, the sole Democrat seeking his party’s nomination, in the state’s marquee race for governor.
Bolling has not endorsed Cuccinelli and said he has no plans to endorse any of the statewide candidates, although he added “that could change.”
“Chances are, we will come out of this convention with the most conservative and most ideologically driven ticket we’ve ever nominated in the history of the state,” Bolling predicted earlier this week.
Cuccinelli’s campaign declined to comment but party Chairman Pat Mullins greeted the creation of the PAC positively.
“Bill Bolling has been an outstanding Lt. Governor, and anything he can do to help elect Republican candidates to office is a welcome development,” he said in a statement.
Some observers said Bolling’s decision to create a PAC signals that he will not be too detached from Virginia politics.
“He’s clearly trying to remain inside the Republican Party,” said Bob Holsworth, former Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor. “It looks to me like he’s trying to position himself for a potential run in 2017 for governor . . . even though he would be politically foolish to mention that as a goal today. But it’s hard to imagine that isn’t something that is an element within his thinking.”
But Bolling said the PAC would not be a vehicle for future campaigns.
“When I return to the private sector, the last thing I’m going to want to do is get re-engaged in the partisan political process,” he said. “There are lots of ways one can engage in public service without holding public office.”
During this year’s General Assembly session, the lieutenant governor broke with Republicans on several votes in the evenly divided Senate. He said Wednesday that the legislature has become increasingly ideological on both sides of the aisle, a phenomenon he described as “the Washingtonization of Richmond.”
“The newer Republicans that have been elected have tended to be the most conservative and ideologically driven, and the newer Democrats that have been elected have tended to be the most ideologically driven,” Bolling said. “That makes it more difficult to get people to work together.”