RICHMOND — Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, facing a challenge from the right in state Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, finds himself banking on a strong performance from Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney — not exactly enamored by conservatives himself — to give him a boost for the 2013 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Mr. Bolling, who is reprising his role as Mr. Romney’s Virginia campaign chairman in 2012, on Tuesday officially filed the former Massachusetts governor’s petition papers so he can appear on the Virginia ballot, touting him as “the only Republican candidate who has a realistic chance of defeating President Obama.”
“I don’t think there’s any question that having a Republican president would help improve our chances in 2013 in Virginia, and having a Republican president who is a friend would help improve my chances in 2013,” he said Tuesday at the State Board of Elections office after delivering the 16,026 signatures.
Mr. Romney is the first Republican candidate to submit signatures to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, a key swing state whose 13 Electoral College votes could determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. A poll released by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling firm Tuesday gave Mr. Romney a 47 percent to 45 percent lead over the president — within the margin of error, but the first time in the firm’s monthly national polling since July 2010 that Mr. Romney has taken a lead over Mr. Obama.
“In the name-recognition game, he’s trying to pick himself up,” said Kyle D. Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “If Romney ultimately gets to the White House, it’s helpful to have a friend in the White House.”
Mr. Cuccinelli, for his part, has not yet said whether he would even endorse a candidate in the primary and appeared unimpressed with both Mr. Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The attorney general grilled them as part of a presidential forum hosted this month on Fox News Channel.
Another wild card that could affect Mr. Bolling’s aspirations is the future of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who struck a deal with Mr. Bolling in 2009 whereby he would run for governor and Mr. Bolling for re-election as lieutenant governor in exchange for Mr. McDonnell’s support in 2013. The governor’s national profile has increased significantly since replacing Texas Gov. Rick Perry as chairman of the Republican Governors Association in August, and Mr. McDonnell is frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick.
“The best thing to happen to Bolling … is if Romney wins and he plucks McDonnell,” said Paul Goldman, a former state Democratic Party chairman and longtime party strategist. Should Mr. McDonnell resign to hit the campaign trail, it would leave Mr. Cuccinelli with the unenviable task of challenging a sitting governor.
Mr. Goldman recalled working on the campaign of Henry Howell, who secured the Democratic nomination for governor in 1977 after backing Jimmy Carter for president in 1976.
Early on in the race, they were 25 points down to then-Attorney General Andrew P. Miller — a situation akin to that of Mr. Bolling, who trailed Mr. Cuccinelli 44 percent to 25 percent in a recent Public Policy Polling preview of the 2013 nomination fight.
“In the last 10 days, Carter’s son came in the campaign for us,” said Mr. Goldman. “And that helped. Those things help. His whole campaign came to talk to us. He was able to use the fact that he helped elect the president to win the nomination.”
Still, the early support is a double-edged sword, since Mr. Romney has not secured the support of the conservative wing of the party, Mr. Kondik said.
“Hard core Republicans — it may be a few months into Romney’s term, and he’s already done something to upset them,” he said. “It’s possible that by the gubernatorial primary in 2013, he might not be very popular among Republicans.”
But Mr. Goldman said that prospect was so far out, there was only upside for Mr. Bolling, given his position in the polls.
“Here, people basically like Bolling, so they’re going to work with him,” he said. “They can grow to like him more. He’s going to make a lot of friends. Win, lose or draw, it’s going to be helpful to him.”
• David Sherfinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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