- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2009

Virginia Republicans Robert F. McDonnell and Bill Bolling struck an unusual deal to unify the top of the GOP ticket more than a year before Election Day.

Instead of running against the then-Virginia attorney general for the gubernatorial nomination, Lt. Gov. Bolling deferred to Mr. McDonnell and sought re-election to his current office.

So far, the plan appears to have paid off. Heading into Election Day on Tuesday, both candidates hold double-digit leads over their Democratic opponents. Mr. McDonnell is quick to praise his fellow Republican for putting his political ambitions on hold.

“Bill Bolling has done an enormous service to unify our party,” Mr. McDonnell told The Washington Times on Saturday.

When the deal was struck, Virginia Republicans were still reeling from a rift between anti-tax conservatives and moderate Republicans who supported a $1.38 billion tax increase to fund transportation under then-Gov. Mark Warner. Several moderate Republicans lost primary fights, while others retired.

By 2008, Republicans had lost two consecutive gubernatorial races and lost control of the state Senate and one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. That year they would also lose the state’s second U.S. Senate seat and see a Democratic presidential candidate win Virginia for the first time since 1964.

“When I made my decision to run for re-election, it was March of 2008. That wasn’t a real good time for Republicans,” Mr. Bolling said. “The president’s approval rating was 28 percent. Being a Republican was just next to having H1N1.”

So after much thought, Mr. Bolling called Mr. McDonnell and told his friend of 14 years that he should run for governor.

He said the two men knew that if they ran against one another, it would divide their friends and their party further, lessening either man’s chance to win in November. And presenting a unified front would make it easier to communicate the party’s priorities.

“We knew that to win we had to get our party back to being a party of issues and ideas,” said Mr. Bolling, a Hanover County resident and vice president of an insurance company.

Mr. Bolling, who spent nine years in the state Senate, said his goals include “getting the economy moving, creating jobs, restoring fiscal responsibility to state government, and improving education, transportation and health care.”

Mr. McDonnell has said he would have Mr. Bolling oversee state job-creation efforts. Ordinarily, the job of lieutenant governor, which pays about $36,000 annually, carries few responsibilities.

Elected independently of the governor, the lieutenant governor serves part time and faces no term limits. Still, the decision to run for re-election is fairly unusual. The last lieutenant governor to serve two terms was Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. more than a decade ago. Mr. Beyer subsequently ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1997.

Usually considered a launching point for a future gubernatorial run, the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, but only casts a vote when there is a tie.

When serving under a governor of the same party, the job is mostly ceremonial. Under a governor of the opposite party, it borders on irrelevance.

Nevertheless, the campaign to win the seat this year has been heated.

Mr. Bolling faces Jody M. Wagner, a former state secretary of finance and lawyer who owns a confectionery company in her native Virginia Beach.

The Wagner campaign has criticized Mr. Bolling for, among other things, a lack of commitment to the position, noting that he frequently misses meetings of boards and commissions of which the lieutenant governor is a member.

“He’s given the job a bum rap. It’s a role where you can be effective and do a lot. He’s chosen to spend his time not doing it,” Mrs. Wagner told The Times.

Mr. Bolling has accused the Democrat of making unsound fiscal projections that put the state at an economic disadvantage.

“I don’t think her record as secretary of finance deserves a promotion,” he said.

Each side has accused the other of running a negative campaign.

“Her criticism of my record is totally dishonest, a gross distortion,” Mr. Bolling said.

Mrs. Wagner, 54, said the choice between the two candidates is “sort of like night and day.”

She said she will work full time and devote herself to creating jobs and building coalitions in the community to further goals that include reforming transportation and expanding educational opportunities.

“I think if there is one thing I have shown in my seven years is that I am a very capable leader who will push to improve the commonwealth,” Mrs. Wagner said.

She cited the need for education reforms from pre-K through college and said educating Virginia’s workers today will create a work force capable of winning high-tech jobs. She also said the state needs to ensure that trade school education isn’t overlooked.

Mrs. Wagner said she has shown she can bring members of the General Assembly together while charging that her opponent prefers to make comments from the sidelines.

“The ability to bring people together in a bipartisan way is what I bring to this election, and that is what I will be able to do as lieutenant governor,” Mrs. Wagner said.

In a poll released Thursday by Roanoke College, Mr. Bolling held a 13-point lead over Mrs. Wagner.

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