The Washington Times - November 28, 2012, 08:12AM

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced Wednesday that he is suspending his campaign for Virginia governor in 2013, clearing the field for Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II to take the Republican nomination in what undoubtedly will be one of the most closely-watched political races next year.

The bombshell news comes days before the Republican Party of Virginia’s annual Advance, to be held this year in Virginia Beach, and sets up a likely matchup between Mr. Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who launched his own unsuccessful bid for governor in 2009.

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“Needless to say, this was a very difficult decision for me, and I know it will come as a surprise and disappointment to many, but I am confident it is the right decision,” Mr. Bolling said in a statement. “Four years ago I decided to set my personal ambition to be Governor aside and join with Bob McDonnell to create a united Republican ticket. Time has proven the wisdom of that decision. Governor McDonnell and I were elected in 2009 by historic margins, and for the past three years we have successfully worked together to get Virginia back on the right track.”

Mr. Bolling said he was “surprised and disappointed” that Mr. Cuccinelli announced his bid for governor, rather than join him on a ticket, as he did with Mr. McDonnell, who had pledged his support to Mr. Bolling this year.

The conservative Virginia blog Black Velvet Bruce Li first reported the news.

Mr. Bolling had been perceived as facing an uphill climb against Mr. Cuccinelli, especially when the party’s State Central Committee reversed itself earlier this year and voted to choose the Republican nominee through a convention rather than a primary — a move seen to help Mr. Cuccinelli, a firebrand conservative who has gained national recognition for his battle against the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, among other issues.

Mr. Bolling said that decision had a “dramatic” impact on the 2013 campaign and that he “reluctantly concluded that the decision to change the method of nomination from a primary to a convention created too many obstacles for us to overcome.”

“In addition, I know how divisive conventions can be, and I was concerned that a prolonged campaign between Mr. Cuccinelli and me could create deep divisions within our party,” Mr. Bolling said. “The convention process would have forced Republican activists to take sides against their friends in local committees all across our state. The wounds that can develop from that type of process are often difficult to heal.”

Mr. Bolling said he plans to remain active in the 2013 campaign “as a more independent voice, making certain that the candidates keep their focus on the important issues facing our state and offer a positive and realistic vision for effectively and responsibly leading Virginia.”

Mr. Bolling, Mitt Romney’s Virginia campaign chairman, could have ascended to the governorship if Mr. McDonnell had been tapped to serve in the former Massachusetts governor’s administration, leaving Mr. Cuccinelli in the awkward position of running against an incumbent for the party’s nomination. But Mr. Romney’s loss in the presidential election — in which he became the second consecutive Republican to fail to carry Virginia — wiped that path away.