RICHMOND — Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling knew where he could get the first $5 million. It was the second $5 million that was in doubt.
To run a credible campaign for governor, Bolling figured he needed $10 million at the very least.
“I was convinced I could raise a lot of money, but we needed to raise $10 [million] or $15 million,” Bolling said. “I could figure out how to raise about half that. I felt pretty good about how we could raise $5 million.”
Bolling had been quiet in the nine days since he announced via e-mail that he would not make an independent bid for governor.
He broke his silence by separately talking with Capitol reporters, saying he wanted to discuss the national GOP’s plan to remake the party he’d been on the verge of quitting. In the process, he revealed just how close he came to making an indie bid — and why he didn’t do it.
“I came very, very close,” Bolling said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Look, the response I received was incredibly positive. . . . There was a clear opening in the race, I think, for a more independent voice. If I had felt I could raise the money [for] a credible campaign, I would have done it.”
In the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), Bolling had sought to position himself as the middle-of-the-road option between Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Prohibited by law from raising money during the General Assembly session, Bolling only had a few weeks between the Feb. 23 adjournment and his self-imposed, publicly announced deadline of March 14.
“If I have one regret, it’s not about the decision,” Bolling said. “I wish I had given myself a little more time. . . . In the three weeks I had at the end of the session until I had to make a decision, I knew I couldn’t talk to 500 people, but I knew I could talk to 50 people. I very aggressively reached out business leaders across the state and, in some cases, across the country. On the basis of that, I felt confident in places like Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond, I could have put together a who’s who [of supporters].”
He was less confident that their support would add up to $10 million. That was a worry not only for the political success, but for his donors.
“You didn’t want people giving 5 million bucks, and then five months later” the campaign collapses for lack of additional funds, he said.
Bolling and his wife, Jean Ann, went to the Bahamas for a week to make a final decision away from consultants and political noise.
“I kind of knew where the financial aspects of it were by that point in time,” Bolling said.
They were left to confront the “relationship aspect of it”: whether Bolling could turn his back on the party and his many close friends in it.
He’d planned to call himself an “independent Republican” if he ran, suggesting he was trying to save the party from a hard right turn, not abandon it. But there was no question that among party leaders and longtime friends, an independent bid would be seen as a profound betrayal.
At the beach, around the pool and over quiet dinners, Bolling and his wife concluded they couldn’t do it. They announced his decision before they were back from the Bahamas, sending word on March12, two days ahead of his deadline.
“The relationships were important,” Bolling said. “As frustrated I am [with the party], there are still a lot of great Republicans who have done a lot for Jean Ann and me over the years. I value those relationships. I felt an obligation.”
In that spirit, Bolling on Thursday heartily endorsed . . . Not Cuccinelli. Not McAuliffe. But Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’s plan to reinvent the GOP.
Priebus came out last week with a highly critical appraisal of the party that lost the White House two elections in a row. He called on it to embrace immigration reform to attract Hispanic voters and to find ways to appeal to women, racial minorities and gays.
“This campaign could be exhibit No. 1 in terms of this RNC report,” said Bolling, who shares many of Cuccinelli’s conservative views but has a more collegial style than the attorney general, who was waged high-profile battles against “Obamacare” and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“That report in many ways validated a lot of the things I’ve been saying for the last couple years,” Bolling said. “The message I’ve been trying to get across ever since Cuccinelli got in [the governor’s race] was that we really needed to become more of a mainstream conservative party. We can be a conservative party, but we have to be a mainstream conservative party. . . . Right now, those [moderate and independent] voters view our party as being an extremely conservative party. And it makes it difficult for us to connect with them.”