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In a statement, Mr. McDonnell praised Mr. Bolling for his public service and his decision and said that “as we prepare for the 2013 campaign, I look forward to helping elect Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as the next governor of Virginia.”

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins also praised Mr. Bolling on Wednesday, saying in a statement that his move “was as surprising to me as it was selfless.”

In a recent interview, Mr. Mullins said the 2013 elections would be crucial for the party.

“[W]e just lost the presidency, and we don’t want to lose two in a row,” Mr. Mullins said.

Mr. McAuliffe, the only Democrat who has declared his intention to run, appears to have a clear path to the nomination now that popular Sen. Mark R. Warner, a former governor, announced that he would stay in the Senate, rather than run for governor again next year. Some Virginia Democrats have been pushing former Rep. Tom Perriello, now the president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, to run statewide since he lost his congressional seat to Rep. Robert Hurt in 2010. His name surfaced once again Wednesday after news of Mr. Bolling’s decision broke.

One person close to Mr. Perriello said he has never ruled out running for office again, but that it would be surprising if he jumped in at this point — an opinion echoed by several other Virginia Democrats.

“I don’t know whether he is prepared at this point to put together a team to challenge Terry,” said a state party official. “Tom’s young. He’s got plenty of time to run. He’s got himself a good vantage point where he sits right now.”