- Published on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 22:16
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A year ago, Ken Cucinelli, Virginia’s flamboyant and press hungry Attorney General, said he wasn’t interested in running for Governor. It didn’t interest him. With his lawsuits, covering everything from suing the University of Virginia, claiming that it’s research scientists misrepresented climate change data, to filing briefs in support of lawsuits against the Affordable Health Care Act, he seemed to be in his element.
The activist right wing of the Virginia GOP, always a little impatient with the sometimes plodding “Virginia Way,” quickly warmed to their feisty Attorney General. He shot from the hip, said what they were thinking, and was stirring the pot. The ranks of his supporters began to grow and with his new found popularity so did the Attorney General’s ambitions.
And that’s why, the race for the GOP nomination for Governor in 2012, once all but settled by gentleman’s agreement, has been turned upside down.
Six months ago, the Governor, and his Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, now in his second term, had the whole arrangement, worked out. McDonnell, limited to one term, was supporting his Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, in his bid for the GOP nomination for Governor. No one, according to this gentleman’s agreement, was supposed to challenge the arrangement. It was, after all, “Bolling’s” turn.
This gentle approach to the transition of power, whenever there were multiple state office holders, has been popular with both parties for years. You wait your turn. But, Cucinelli, decided that he wouldn’t wait for his turn. Something that shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
Earlier this year, to the howls of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor, Ken Cucinelli announced that he would be a candidate for the GOP nomination for Governor in 2013. The press releases that followed, from McDonnell, and Bolling, criticizing Cucinelli for exercising his right to run for any office he wishes, were vehement. I am no Cucinelli fan, but at that particular moment, as he was challenging the GOP’s staid and proper, and not particularly democratic process for choosing its nominee, my response was, “you go Ken.”
The Virginia GOP establishment, a hard to define group, but for the moment, consisting of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, other elected officials, and those in the party who like to see things proceed according to a steady, ordered process, were extremely unhappy. They worried that Cucinelli, flamboyant, extremely right wing, and apt to speak off the cuff, was unelectable.
While Bill Bolling was unhappy at having to square off against Cucinelli for the nomination, he remained hopeful, that in a primary, he could best the Attorney General. It wouldn’t be easy, but Bolling hoped that in a primary the more moderate, establishment oriented Republicans, would support him and not Cucinelli. However, last week, all that changed. After years of preferring the primary route, the Republican State Central Committee, decided to hold a convention. It was a complete about face, and represented a repudiation of what the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor wanted. All at once Bolling’s chances got just that more slim. A caucus and convention system, one that conservative activists could much more easily dominate, was a prayer come true for the Attorney General. Bolling has promised to stay in the fight, but, unless the GOP rank and file sour on the Attorney General, which is unlikely, Cucinelli, thanks to some excellent timing, and a minor GOP rebellion, is on his way to becoming the 2013 GOP nominee for Governor.
The Democrats, for their part, are watching this contest cautiously. At the moment, they have no obvious choices to field in 2013. All they really have, at least at the moment, are retreads from the 2009 Democratic Primary. Terry McAuliffe is interested. Brian Moran could probably be persuaded to try again and one prospective newcomer to this contest, Congressman Jerry Connelly has been thinking about running as well. None of these names is particularly powerful. But, against Cucinelli, who while popular with the activist conservatives of the Virginia GOP, has a high unfavorable rating in statewide polls, may all at once make the Democratic nomination worth having.