The field has narrowed in Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial election after Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, announced Tuesday he would not pursue a third-party candidacy, setting up a showdown between gay-marriage supporter and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a fierce opponent of LGBT rights.
Bolling, who in his capacity as lieutenant governor serves as acting president of the evenly divided state Senate, announced via email that he would not run for governor as an independent, despite weighing a potential bid after being forced to drop out of contention for the Republican nomination late last year, according to The Washington Post.
Bolling announced in November he was suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination following the decision of the State Central Committee of the Republican Party, under pressure from Cuccinelli allies, to reverse course and hold a closed party convention in lieu of a statewide primary, where Bolling could have appealed to a wider voter base, including independents and conservative Democrats.
In the email statement, Bolling cited three reasons why he would not pursue an independent candidacy: concerns about fundraising without institutional support from a major political party, his unwillingness to sever ties with the Republican Party, and the increasingly rigid ideological nature of state politics, in which the "Virginia way" of doing things is being replaced by the "Washington way."
"I look forward to continuing my work with Governor McDonnell and the rest of our great team in the months to come," Bolling said. "We have accomplished a lot over the past three years, but we still have a lot of important work to do before our term of office is over. After that, I will return to the private sector and look for other ways to serve Virginia."
Bolling did not endorse either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe in his announcement, which some political observers have interpreted as a slight directed at Cuccinelli.
"I wish Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli well as they begin their campaigns," Bolling said in his statement. "I encourage them to run campaigns that are worthy of Virginia; campaigns that focus on the big issues facing our state and offer a positive vision for the future of Virginia. ... And I encourage the people of Virginia to carefully consider the decision they will make this November. 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. Nothing less should be acceptable."
Although many political observers initially thought that Bolling, as a Republican-leaning independent, would take votes away from Cuccinelli, public polling from both Public Policy Polling and Quinnipiac Universityshowed Bolling’s level of support mired in the teens, taking an almost equal percentage of votes from McAuliffe as from Cuccinelli.
When Bolling is removed from contention, most polls have shown a dead heat between the McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, offering LGBT voters a stark choice in terms of the candidates’ positions on a host of issues. While Cuccinelli has a record of opposing various LGBT rights initiatives, and particularly same-sex marriage, McAuliffe recently announced his support for marriage equality.
Josh Schwerin, the press secretary for McAuliffe, told Metro Weekly in an email that McAuliffe prefers the General Assembly to pass legislation providing employment protections for LGBT public employees, but would follow the precedent, set by former Govs. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D), of issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Schewerin also told Metro Weekly that McAuliffe supports statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals in non-public employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Following Bolling’s announcement, the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, an arm of the state Democratic Party, issued a statement in which they slammed Cuccinelli and called this year’s November elections – in which voters will choose a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and 100 representatives of Virginia’s House of Delegates – "critical to the long-term success of Virginia, and the efforts of LGBT Virginians to gain equality and protection under the law."
"Terry McAuliffe represents a way forward for all of Virginia, as his positions more closely mirror those of all people; standing in stark contrast to the radical views of the presumed Republican nominee, Ken Cuccinelli," Maggie Sacra, chair of LGBT Democrats for Virginia said in a statement. "With Lt. Gov. Bolling out of the race, the door for Cuccinelli has widened; however, LGBT Democrats of Virginia are confident that the citizens of Virginia will opt for a governor who is responsive to the needs of people, rather than a candidate deeply mired in his oppressive ideology."
A spokesperson for the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans did not return phone calls seeking comment by publishing deadline.
[Photo: Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (courtesy of Bill Bolling's personal campaign website).]