Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) still says he’s deciding whether to run as an Independent for governor but a communication to previous political supporters “seeking [their] advice” clearly indicates a preference to join the battle. Bolling was originally planning to challenge Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Republican primary but, when the voting format was changed to a statewide convention, it became clear even to Bolling that he had little chance of prevailing.
Upset at being dashed by the Republican brass for a second time (four years ago Bolling stepped aside so that then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell could run for governor, with assurances that he would be next in line come 2013) he started publicly contemplating about running in the general election as a third candidate. He states that he would enter the race as an “Independent Republican” and it is clear to him “… that there is a great deal of uneasiness about the candidates the two major political parties appear poised to nominate, and a lot of people in our state are looking for a better option.”
Bolling also released his internally commissioned McLaughlin & Associates poll (released Feb. 26; 400 registered Virginia voters) that shows an overwhelming number of people would consider voting for an Independent candidate, but one that also projects him to be faring poorly against Cuccinelli and consensus Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe.
According to the McLaughlin data, Bolling enjoys a 44:11 percent favorability index. This compares to Cuccinelli’s 41:27 percent, and McAuliffe’s rather poor 25:22 percent ratio. In his analysis, chief pollster John McLaughlin then points to results saying that 67 percent of the survey sample would consider voting for an “Independent candidate running for governor.”
The groups with the lowest Independent candidate consideration rate were Democrats (58 percent), African-Americans (59 percent), and Republicans (62 percent). Those with the highest level of consideration are, not surprisingly, self-described Independents (81 percent), whites, women, residents of the Norfolk market, and “west state market” respondents. All of these latter segments registered 69 percent in favor of considering an Independent candidate for governor.
But, on the ballot test, Bolling again fails to crash through his mid-teens ceiling found in other polls and, moreover, does not take a disproportionate number of votes away from Cuccinelli. The candidate results show McAuliffe leading with 38 percent, Cuccinelli one point back at 37 percent, and Bolling lagging well behind, posting only 15 percent.
If Bolling is serious about trying to win a three-way configuration instead of just spoiling a Cuccinelli victory, he will have to construct a coalition of disaffected moderate Republicans, and Democrats in southern and western Virginia who do not want to support a liberal from the Washington, DC suburbs. It is doubtful such a coalition would be large enough to constitute better than a third of the statewide vote, but this is the type of obstacle that the lieutenant governor faces.
If he is relegated to becoming just a Cuccinelli spoiler, Bolling runs the risk of following former gubernatorial and senatorial candidate Marshall Coleman into political oblivion. Coleman, as the Republican nominee for governor in 1989, lost a razor-thin election to then-Lt. Gov. Doug Wilder (D). Five years later, he entered the US Senate race in a similar configuration to what Bolling faces this year.
At that time, Coleman decided to run as an Independent against then-Sen. Chuck Robb (D) and GOP nominee Oliver North. Coleman only took 11.5 percent of the vote, but it was enough to give Robb a 46-43 percent win over North in the Republican landslide year of 1994. The move allowed the senator to win re-election even though 54 percent of Virginia voters chose another candidate. Six years later, Sen. Robb lost his re-election bid to former Republican Gov. George Allen. Marshall Coleman, politically, has never been heard from again.
Bolling’s memo claims that he must make a decision about running within two weeks. The tone of the communication, however, suggests that his contemplation period may already be complete.