Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced Tuesday he would not run for governor of Virginia, putting to rest months of speculation about whether he would pursue an independent bid in a lengthy statement that also warned of what he described as a sharply partisan turn in state politics.
“Given the current political dynamics in Virginia, the prospects of an Independent campaign were very appealing to me, and based on the positive feedback I had received from business leaders, community leaders and citizens all across our state, I am confident that I could have run a credible and competitive campaign and made a positive contribution to the public debate,” he said in a statement. “However, after a great deal of consideration I have decided that I will not be an Independent candidate for Governor this year.”
Mr. Bolling, a Republican who suspended his campaign for the GOP nomination in November, had said he would announce his decision by Thursday.
He said he decided not to run in part because of the daunting challenges of raising the roughly $10 million to $15 million he thought would be necessary to wage a successful campaign without the backing of a party organization. He also cited his reluctance to break from the Republican Party, despite what he described as concern over the direction of his party. Finally, he said he was dissatisfied with the political environment in the state, describing it as “hyper-partisan and mean-spirited” and resembling Washington more than the historically genteel process Virginia legislators pride themselves on.
Analysts had speculated on what effect Mr. Bolling would have on the race between Republican Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and Democrat Terry McAuliffe after early polls suggested the lieutenant governor trailed the party nominees by large margins and did not seem to take voters away from one more than the other.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last month showed Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli tied at 38 percent in a hypothetical two-way race that excluded the Republican lieutenant governor. Including Mr. Bolling in the race gave Mr. McAuliffe a slight edge of 34 percent over Mr. Cuccinelli’s 31 percent and Mr. Bolling’s 13 percent. But the polls also indicated a significant amount of voters were undecided and that many were unfamiliar with Mr. Bolling, despite his having served two terms as lieutenant governor.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said he still thinks one candidate benefits more from Mr. Bolling’s decision.
“I think Cuccinelli does, mostly because he doesn’t have to worry about any kind of greater division in the party,” he said, adding that Mr. Bolling likely could have played spoiler but probably could not have won. “I think it would have been tough.”
Mr. Bolling, who is more moderate politically than the conservative Mr. Cuccinelli, was considered an underdog for the Republican nomination in part because the state party planned to pick its nominee at a convention rather than a primary. Conventions are generally thought to favor candidates who represent the more extreme wings of their party.
Mr. Bolling put off a bid for governor in 2009 in exchange for then-state Attorney General Bob McDonnell’s support in 2013, but his road to the nomination hit a speed bump when Mr. Cuccinelli indicated more than a year ago his intention to run. Mr. Bolling has since taken several obvious public jabs at Mr. Cuccinelli, whose conservative views have reportedly raised concerns among some influential moderate Republicans.
Mr. McAuliffe issued a statement Tuesday about Mr. Bolling’s decision, positioning himself as the more mainstream candidate while praising the lieutenant governor’s service to the state.
“Virginia owes Bill Bolling a debt of gratitude for his mainstream leadership, focus on job creation, and willingness to work with both parties to find solutions,” he said. “I know he will continue to work hard for the Commonwealth’s future and look forward to hearing his ideas on how to make Virginia the best for business.”
Mr. Cuccinelli issued a statement Tuesday afternoon similarly thanking Mr. Bolling for his service and referencing the work of the “McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli team” over the last three years.
Mr. Bolling in his statement did not make an endorsement in the gubernatorial race but wished Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. McAuliffe luck and urged them to run issue-oriented, positive campaigns.
“Our priority should be on electing a Governor who has the ability to effectively and responsibly govern our state and provide the mainstream leadership we need to solve problems, get things done and make Virginia a better place to live,” he said. “Nothing less should be acceptable.”