Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Virginia General Assembly session is 45 days long, not 30 as originally reported.
RICHMOND — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said Wednesday that he has been polling voters and meeting with business leaders to gauge the viability of an independent bid for governor.
Bolling (R) said he was considering a run as an independent candidate when he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination in November. But some political observers doubted his seriousness, even as he went on over the next month to become uncharacteristically vocal on a number issues, including uranium mining and arming school teachers.
The disclosure that Bolling has been courting business leaders and polling, made in an interview with The Washington Post, is the first indication that the lieutenant governor has taken some concrete steps toward an independent run.
“We’re very seriously evaluating the feasibility of an independent campaign,” Bolling said. “I have been meeting with a number of business leaders across the state to discuss that possibility. We’ve done some polling to assess where we might stand in a three-way race. There’s a lot of due diligence to be done to assess the feasibility of an independent campaign for governor, and we continue in the process of doing that due diligence.”
Bolling has not been raising money, something he will be prohibited from doing during the 45-day General Assembly session that begins next week. Even without that prohibition, Bolling said he would not raise funds unless and until he decides to run. He said he expects to make a decision by early March.
Skeptics still doubt the longtime Republican loyalist will cross his party — even a party that spurned him in favor of his chief rival, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), by changing the way the GOP nominee will be selected.
“I think Bill Bolling’s feelings are hurt. I don’t think he’s walked down the road to Damascus,” said David “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran Democratic political strategist.
The campaigns of Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and likely Democratic nominee, declined to comment.
Bolling dropped out of the GOP race after Cuccinelli supporters pulled off a switch in the way the party will choose its nominee. Dumping a previously agreed-upon statewide primary, which would have been open to all voters in a state without party registration, they called instead for a May 18 convention, a format mostly limited to party stalwarts because it requires a trip to Richmond and a day-long commitment. The change was expected to favor Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite known for high-profile battles with the federal government, over Bolling, who shares many of Cuccinelli’s conservative views but has a more low-key, conciliatory style.
When he suspended his bid for the nomination, Bolling said he would not endorse Cuccinelli and would consider running as an independent.
Since then, he has staked out some public positions that set him apart from the normally close political ally he would like to succeed, term-limited Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
First, Bolling announced that he was against lifting the state’s 30-year-old ban on uranium mining — getting ahead of the McDonnell on what is expected to be one of the most contentious issues of the General Assembly session. McDonnell is said to still be weighing the issue.
Bolling broke with McDonnell again by opposing the possibility of arming teachers, principals and other staff at schools. He announced his position a day after McDonnell remarked in a radio interview that Virginia should at least consider arming school staff to protect children from attacks like the one that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at a Connecticut school.
In the near future, Bolling is making the rounds to newspaper editorial boards. He is to meet Monday with a group of Northern Virginia business leaders, according to two people with knowledge of the planned private gathering who were not authorized to speak publicly about it.
“We are continuing the process of doing the due diligence — the biggest piece of which right now is trying to figure out how the people of Virginia would respond to an independent campaign,” Bolling said. “I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far in that regard in our polling, and trying to determine how business leaders across the state would respond to an independent campaign. And I’m very encouraged by what I’ve heard in that regard.”