RICHMOND — Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling angered many Republicans when, after quitting the race for the party’s gubernatorial nod, he publicly mulled over an independent bid and then said he wouldn’t endorse anyone in the race.
That anger turned to fury over the weekend, when it appeared that Bolling had tried to help persuade an influential business PAC to support Democrat Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli II.
Now, some Republicans are urging the Virginia GOP to oust Bolling from the party.
“Bill Bolling said he would not interject and would not get involved, and he gets caught working behind the scenes for his buddy Terry McAuliffe,” said Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli’s chief strategist.
The controversy began last week, when the political arm of the Northern Virginia Technology Council voted to endorse Cuccinelli. McAuliffe allies erupted in protest and launched a weekend of heavy lobbying to reverse the decision. According to two people with knowledge of events, Bolling was among those who called the PAC’s leader on behalf of McAuliffe.
It was seemingly the first indication that Bolling had taken an active role to promote the Democratic nominee in the governor’s race.
Controversy over the endorsement continued to churn a day after the group, resisting high-powered arm-twisting, stuck with its plan to endorse Cuccinelli. The episode, which seemed to hurt McAuliffe and give Cuccinelli a much-needed boost, also had an effect on Bolling and his standing with the GOP.
Bolling has seemed reluctant to snip his ties to the party, even after the GOP’s central committee changed the nomination method in a way that favored Cuccinelli, leading to Bolling’s exit from the race in November. As he contemplated an independent run against Cuccinelli and McAuliffe early this year, Bolling said he would bill himself not as an independent but as an “independent Republican.” After saying that he would not endorse Cuccinelli, Bolling added in an August interview, “I’m a Republican, and because of thatI’m not comfortable endorsing the other guy’s candidacy, either.”
Now, leading Republicans say privately that they believe Bolling has essentially left the party. Some are urging the GOP to make that official by removing him from the party.
No immediate action was expected.
“I think his future as a candidate within the Republican Party as presently constituted is nil,” said Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor and veteran Richmond politics watcher.
“I think what Bolling or others are hoping is that, if there’s a [Cuccinelli] defeat, the reaction among moderate Republicans would be so strong as to provide a new opportunity. He didn’t have a future from the time he started dissing Cuccinelli, and this is just an escalation of what’s been going on for the last couple of months.”
Amid the tug of war over the endorsement, Dendy Young, TechPAC chairman and chief executive of McLean Capital, wrote an e-mail to members that he was getting pressured by several people, including Bolling.
“The pressure is hot and heavy,” Young wrote in the e-mail Sunday morning. “I personally received calls yesterday from Senator Mark Warner, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, [former U.S. chief technology officer and former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor] Aneesh Chopra, and several others,”
On Tuesday, Young clarified that Bolling had not asked him to change the endorsement.
“At no point did he encourage me to change the endorsement,” said Young, who described the lieutenant governor as a friend of many years. “He asked genuinely and appropriately, ‘How did you get to that decision?’ . . . I told him what happened, and he accepted that.”
Bolling’s office, which has been quiet since his name emerged amid news accounts about the endorsement controversy, confirmed Young’s version of events.
The Cuccinelli campaign and several other Republicans said that even if Bolling did not explicitly call Young on McAuliffe’s behalf, that would have been the implicit message because his opposition to Cuccinelli has been so strong and public.
“It’s clearly implied,” LaCivita said.
Holsworth agreed that Bolling’s call would have been perceived as a pitch for McAuliffe, even if that went unstated.
“It remains a virtual endorsement,” Holsworth said. “He did everything but cross the ‘t’ in the last letter.”
McAuliffe has been publicly courting Bolling for months. He phoned the Republican after he dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination in November. He made an hour-long visit to Bolling’s Capitol Square office in January, even as Bolling was publicly weighing an independent run.
In March, McAuliffe said he would have a place in his cabinet for Bolling.
Bolling’s longtime political consultant, Boyd Marcus, shocked political observers last month by endorsing McAuliffe and going to work for his campaign.
The lieutenant governor’s own voting record had been as conservative as Cuccinelli’s until the past year, when Bolling stepped out with some moderate stances on transportation funding and Medicaid expansion.
Some Republicans predicted that Bolling might follow Marcus’s lead with an endorsement of his own, but Bolling’s spokeswoman said that he does not intend to weigh in on any statewide races, including the one for lieutenant governor between E.W. Jackson (R) and state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk) and the contest for attorney general between Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun).
“Lieutenant Governor Bolling has met privately with every candidate who has asked to meet with him,” spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said.
“That includes Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli, as well as Senator Obenshain and Senator Herring. He has talked with them about the election and the important issues facing Virginia, but he has not endorsed any candidates, and he currently has no intention of doing so.”