RICHMOND — Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said Thursday his decision to stay on the sidelines of the Virginia governor’s race affords him the opportunity to be a much-needed independent voice in the contest, lamenting a political process he described as increasingly ideological, partisan and mean-spirited.
Mr. Bolling, who has openly held long-term ambitions for the office, said the process has revealed to him that Virginia needs a moderate voice amid often-cacophonous partisanship. He conceded he was the underdog in a would-be intraparty battle against Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II. The state party’s decision earlier this year to switch from a primary to a convention to decide its nominee made the battle all the more difficult, he said. Conventions are considered beneficial to more conservative candidates, and Mr. Bolling was openly frustrated with the process.
“Politics today is a lot more challenging than it was when I got involved,” he said. “It’s a lot more ideologically driven. It’s a lot more hyperpartisan. Frankly, in many respects, it’s a lot more mean-spirited … so it’s fair to say I’ve lost my passion for many aspects of the political process, but I haven’t lost an ounce of my passion for public service.”
Next year’s gubernatorial race is ensured a national audience thanks to the state’s tradition of holding gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years. New Jersey is the only other state to hold a gubernatorial contest in 2013, and Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently confirmed he will run for re-election. A recent Quinnipiac University poll put Mr. Christie’s approval rating at 72 percent, and if he does not face a strong challenger, attention and resources could quickly shift to Virginia — where there are no campaign-contribution limits.
Looking forward to next year’s race, Mr. Bolling said that he is interested to see how the contest between likely Republican nominee Mr. Cuccinelli and likely Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe unfolds.
“Both of the candidates, I think, are going to have challenges convincing the people of Virginia that they’re capable of providing that kind of effective, responsible, thoughtful, mainstream leadership,” he said.
Mr. Cuccinelli’s campaign declined to comment on the remarks. Mr. McAuliffe, meanwhile, said the type of leadership Mr. Bolling alluded to was exactly what he would bring to the table.
“I intend on running a campaign that will unite Virginians across parties who share my focus, putting job creation and common-sense fiscal responsibility above divisive partisan crusades,” he said.
But Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that in politics — if not policy — the middle is quickly evaporating.
“These primaries, especially on the Republican side, but also the Democrats, are just giving fits to anyone thinking about being in the middle,” he said.
Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins, speaking about the ongoing talks on Capitol Hill on the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to begin next year, countered that both parties run the risk of becoming irrelevant if they abandon their core beliefs.
“There are things that can be done without us totally abandoning our principles,” he said. “We’ll become a minority party real quick if we start abandoning [them], and for them to abandon all their principles … they will run a risk of turning [their supporters] off, and then what you’re going to look at is a third party that comes in and takes from both sides.”
Jamie Radtke, former head of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, who finished second in a four-way Republican primary for U.S. Senate earlier this year, said that “this is actually a very good day for the Republican Party.”
“I’m very excited that the grass roots is actually going to have a voice, and it’s not going to be big money and PACs and consultants and ideologues that are going to be the voice of the party,” she said.
Mr. Mullins, however, said he was “disappointed” by Mr. Bolling’s comments over the past 48 hours.
“The proper venue for challenging a fellow Republican is during a nomination contest,” he said. “Lt. Gov. Bolling chose to suspend his campaign. I hope he will take his own words to heart and work to bring our party together.”
On the other side, the Democrats’ likely nominee, Mr. McAuliffe, has his shortcomings as well. He’s burnished his business bona fides within the state over the past three years by expanding work on his line of energy-efficient vehicles and other ventures, but his ties to national party politics may give some people pause, Mr. Tobias said. A longtime friend and confidant of Bill and Hillary Clinton, he was the Democratic National Committee chairman from 2001 to 2005.
Mr. Bolling said Thursday that the decision was the most difficult one he’s made in his personal or professional life. And while he reiterated that he has no current plans to launch a third-party bid or make an endorsement, he didn’t exactly slam those doors shut, either.
“I never say never to anything,” he said. “I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to hold.”