RICHMOND — Terry McAuliffe sat down Thursday with someone else who’d like to be Virginia’s next governor: Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
McAuliffe, the only Democrat in this year’s governor’s race, sought the meeting with Bolling, a Republican who’s been mulling an independent bid since conceding in November that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II was likely to beat him for the GOP nomination.
The meeting lasted an hour and touched on “the political landscape in Virginia,” Bolling said.
“He called our office a couple days ago and told us he was going to be in town and asked if he could come by and spend some time with me,” Bolling said. “So we did that this morning. We met in my office for about an hour and had a very pleasant conversation.”
Bolling declined to say whether they discussed the governor’s race.
“We talked about the political landscape in Virginia, and some of the important issues that are facing the state, and had a very cordial conversation,” he said. “And I enjoyed it very much and appreciate him taking the time to reach out and come by and say hello. It was very nice of him. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin confirmed the meeting but said little else.
“Terry and Lt. Governor Bolling met this morning to discuss policy and the state of the Commonwealth,” Schwerin said via e-mail. “Terry enjoyed the meeting and appreciates Lt. Governor Bolling taking the time to sit down with him.”
McAuliffe did not use his trip to Richmond to similarly pop in on Cuccinelli.
Some political observers saw McAuliffe’s gesture as an overture to independent voters who might find Bolling appealing — one that could pay off for the Democrat if Bolling ultimately decides not to run.
Bolling dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination after Cuccinelli supporters pulled off a switch in the way the party will choose its nominee. Dumping a previously agreed-upon statewide primary, they called a closed May 18 convention, a format mostly limited to party stalwarts because it requires a trip to Richmond and a day-long commitment. One other Republican remains in the race, White House gate-crasher Tareq Salahi.
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).
Bolling disclosed recently that he has been polling voters and meeting with business leaders to gauge the viability of an independent bid. On Monday, he met with 48 business leaders in Northern Virginia to discuss a possible run.
Bolling has said he is exploring the run because he thinks it is likely that neither Cuccinelli nor McAuliffe will appeal to Virginia voters. Bolling’s hour-long confab with McAuliffe apparently did not change his opinion on that front.
“As I’ve said before, I think the polls indicate that there’s an opening in this campaign for a credible independent candidate,” Bolling said.
The meeting between McAuliffe and Bolling was the first time the two spent any real time together, although they had bumped into each other many times over the years. McAuliffe called Bolling the day he dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination, a gesture that Bolling had said he appreciated.
Asked whether he had talked with Cuccinelli since then, Bolling said: “I haven’t heard diddly squat from the attorney general.”