- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2011

The two most obvious contenders for Virginia governor — the lieutenant governor and attorney general — have a decision to make every four years: Will they butt heads, broker a deal or just stay out of each other’s way?

Two years ago, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Bob McDonnell opted for the deal route. The Republicans worked out an eight-year plan in which Mr. Bolling would step back, give Mr. McDonnell the stage and take his own turn four years later.

With Mr. Bolling’s candidacy all but announced, the question is what Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II will do. He could mount a challenge in 2013. He could run for U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner’s seat in 2014. Or, he could sit back and bide his time.

For now, he offers an answer that leaves plenty of questions.

“It’s an option,” Mr. Cuccinelli recently told The Washington Times about running for governor. “But the way we operate is as if we were going to be running for re-election.”

It would be much more unusual if Mr. Cuccinelli decides not to run for governor. Every Virginia attorney general since 1982 has resigned from office early in order to pursue a gubernatorial bid.

It’s a similar story with Virginia’s lieutenant governors. With the exception of Mr. Bolling in 2009, every one since the 1993 election has tried to drop the “lieutenant” from his title. In 2005, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine defeated Republican Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore in the general election. Before that, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager was bested by Attorney General Mark L. Earley for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2001.

The deal between Mr. McDonnell and Mr. Bolling is rare. Mr. Bolling formed a gubernatorial campaign committee two months after Mr. McDonnell was sworn in and set a tentative time frame for launching his bid.

“We’re doing the things we need to do to lay ground for a gubernatorial campaign,” Mr. Bolling told The Times. “We won’t make a final decision on that until mid-next year, I’d guess.”

Mr. Bolling and Mr. Cuccinelli have been unusually active in their positions. Part of Mr. Bolling’s deal with Mr. McDonnell was that he would be dubbed the “jobs creation officer” and kept busy in an otherwise torpid role that involves only two constitutionally mandated duties: presiding over the state Senate and casting tie-breaking votes and succeeding a governor who resigns from or dies in office.

Mr. Bolling said he spends about two-thirds of his time recruiting businesses to Virginia, working with business leaders and helping businesses grow. He spends the other third of his time working as an insurance agency executive, supplementing his annual salary of $36,321 as lieutenant governor.

“[The governor] has put a lot of confidence in me,” Mr. Bolling said. “I’ve enjoyed that more than anything I’ve done in public service.”

He welcomes the change after spending four years of relative inactivity under Mr. Kaine, a Democrat. Citing ideological differences, he said he always felt like an outsider to the Kaine administration.

“One former [U.S.] vice president once said the vice presidency wasn’t worth a warm bucket of spit,” Mr. Bolling said. “I was beginning to feel the same way.”

Though more coy than Mr. Bolling about his intentions, Mr. Cuccinelli has carried out his duties in a way that seems clear that he is ambitious and wants to keep his options open. Known for venturing into the most politically charged issues, Mr. Cuccinelli filed his own lawsuit against federal health care reform instead of signing on to a similar one coordinated by more than two dozen states. He has also challenged regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and climate-change research at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Cuccinelli’s relationship with Mr. McDonnell and Mr. Bolling is “very strong,” the lieutenant governor said. But Mr. Bolling seemed quick to align himself with the governor and take credit for Mr. Cuccinelli’s lawsuits.

“He’s been a very good partner for us on our challenge to the federal health care reform bill,” Mr. Bolling said. “He’s been a great partner in our efforts to rein in the EPA, which has really, we think, overreached.”

The potential gubernatorial opponents each express devotion to Mr. McDonnell, whose popularity would, incidentally, make him a prized endorser in 2013.

Quick to defend Mr. McDonnell on any number of issues, Mr. Bolling made it clear he was a mouthpiece for the governor during the legislative session. He speaks of the governor’s positions as “our” positions.

“We said we were going to campaign as a team, and we also said we were going to govern as a team,” Mr. Bolling said. “We have a very close personal relationship, and we share the same vision for the future of the state.”

If less effusive than Mr. Bolling in his praise of the governor, Mr. Cuccinelli nonetheless consistently speaks well of Mr. McDonnell. He commended the governor for close involvement in the legislative process.

“He is a guy — and we know, because we read every bill — he reads these bills,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “I think a lot of prior governors just listened to what staff had to say.”

Mr. Cuccinelli has described himself as the analytical “left-brainer,” while Mr. McDonnell has a more relational “right brain” — a difference that gave Mr. Bolling another opportunity to align himself with Mr. McDonnell while not quite criticizing Mr. Cuccinelli’s full-speed-ahead and sometimes controversial approach.

“I’m a lot more like McDonnell,” Mr. Bolling said. “We share the same conservative philosophy: If you’re going to get things done in a divided government, sometimes you have to be willing to compromise, or you’re not going to get anything done.”

Given their marked contrast in styles, a Bolling-Cuccinelli matchup would be lively. But for now, Mr. Bolling is resting easy on Mr. Cuccinelli’s stated intentions to stay away from the governor’s race.

“The attorney general has said both publicly and privately he’s going to seek re-election to the office of attorney general,” Mr. Bolling said. “He’s a man of his word, and I take him at his word.”

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