Home Virginia Politics If Sabato Is Right, Bolling Hurts McAuliffe

If Sabato Is Right, Bolling Hurts McAuliffe


(UPDATE: Bill Bolling has announced he will NOT be running! See his statement in the comments section of this blog post. – promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

UVA Professor Larry Sabato has made it official: if Lt. Governor Bill Bolling tries to make a credible run for governor as a Republican-turned-Independent, he will hurt Democratic Terry McAuliffe.

This is big news. It defies the conventional wisdom. It refutes the push by the state’s “enlightened” right thinking people to get Bolling to run. They have seduced him into believing he is the new magically “moderate” Republican, against the evil conservative Republican. Having spent his political life as the little guy waiting in the wings, they have seduced him with visions of his being the new Lincoln, saving his party for the Whiggery of Cuccinelli. For a little guy (having now lost 40 pounds), finally Bill Bolling finds himself not Bolling Alone.

These folks Bolling to run because they want to use Bolling to kill off Cuccinelli. The AG has no one but himself to blame for the situation as a political matter. He dared Bolling to do it by changing the nomination rules. It was hardball politics. But there was a risk.

However, Sabato says the conventional wisdom and all its worshippers are wrong, that Bolling may not be the anti-Cuccinelli terminator at all. But you ask: Why wasn’t this prediction from the state’s leading political guru reported? My response: It was reported. But Larry said in a respectful, polite manner. He didn’t want to offend anyone, so he did a masterful job of telling the hard truth by concealing it so his friends in the media and the editorial boards wouldn’t get angry with him.  

However, we do 200-proof politics here: We appreciate Larry’s skill, but we prefer to be straight up direct. Fact: The good Dr. has given his diagnosis. He said the following in a recent interview with the Richmond Times Dispatch. If Bolling runs, said the good Professor, the LG “could be a contender….a real contender” as an independent third party candidate.

This was music to the anti-Cuccinelli crowd, they are desperate for Bolling to run. They played this part of the interview up front, in the lead. They are desperate for Bolling to run, so this was the seal of approval from the guru, saying to Bolling: “I think you can win bro.”

But Larry knows the truth: Bolling can’t win.  He never said he could.

So Larry went on to say that ” even if [Bolling doesn’t win], depending on the positions he takes, he could end up hurting Cuccinelli more, or he could end up hurting McAuliffe more.”

On the surface, this seems a little inane for such a brilliant guy: it is like DUH?

However, there is method to the good professor’s madness here.

What he was saying, without saying it, is the following: If Bolling actually were to run a credible race, then LG would not be a net-wash as some polls are predicting. The pollsters are not sure who Bolling would hurt.

But Dr. Sabato already knows. If your read the quote carefully, he said Bolling would hurt:

Terry McAuliffe.

The operative tipoff in Larry’s statement is the phrase “depending on the positions” Bolling takes.

Personally, I think this is far too idealistic view of how politics works. Perception, not platform, is more important. But to the extent Larry is right – positions affect image  – Bolling will hurt McAuliffe.

As we say, do the 200-proof political math.

If Bolling runs a credible campaign, then his positions will by definition be geared to paint him as the “moderate”, pushing Terry to the left and Cuccinelli to the right.

There are two basic sets of issues: non-social and social.

In the non-social category, the GOP base has long been most concerned with the tax issue. It has proven the best for Republicans for decades. Bolling and McAuliffe back the new transportation tax, Cuccinelli does not. Thus K-Man will run as the anti-tax guy against the other two, saying they are the errand boys of the high tax lobby, socking it to the middle class, yada, yada, yada. But you say: McDonnell, a Republican and a whole lot of Republicans in the General Assembly backed the taxes.

My response: So what? The plan that passed isn’t McDonnell’s plan, this would be a different story. He admits it is a compromise. So he and the others back it, Cuccinelli says it is too taxing on the middle class, a discriminatory double-taxing of NOVA, yada, yada, yada. Bollings campaign advisors have made a living for years running the anti-tax game. They know it will capture the GOP anti-tax base.

In my view, some of the tax plan is unconstitutional, which will only fuel the anti-tax fire more in coming months. Net-Net: On the anti-tax right, Bolling is Bowling alone. He gets NOTHING. Moreover, being seen as pro-tax hurts Bowling with connected parts of the GOP base, the limited government voter, the “don’t tread on me voter”, he loses the pro-middle class image. True, he will try to come back on jobs and growth and fixing transportation, yada, yada, yada. BUT THIS IS ALSO TERRY’S TURF as Sabato is saying without saying it.

On the social issues, the base GOP vote considers itself pro-life. This constituency is solidly in Cuccinelli’s corner, and Bolling knows it. This is their key issue. Bolling can’t change is position here or his campaign will become a joke. Thus, what choice does he have but to try to move left of his current position on issues like gay rights, marriage rights, immigration, women’s rights, minority issues, go down the list. Sabato figures Bolling has to try and become the moderate tolerant guy, painting Cuccinelli as intolerant and McAuliffe as too permissive.

Bottom Sabato line: Bolling, be it on social or non-social issues, has to be moving left to run a credible campaign aimed at getting 35% of the vote.

It is strictly a matter of 200-proof political math.

Thus, the Sabato judgment: If Bolling were to actually try to become a real contender, he would have to spend most of his effort pouching on McAuliffe’s turf, not Cuccinelli turf.

Sabato exposes the myth: Bolling right now is an oxymoron, too pro-tax for his former Republicans, too anti-women for his new Democratic friends, and too much the opportunist for thoughtful independents.

Bolling will need to go left consistently to have any chance of winning. This means he will need to take a lot more votes from McAuliffe than Cuccinelli.

Sabato is too nice a guy to tell Bolling the truth straight up: We, on the other hand, don’t have such social graces. Bolling is a myth in his own mind, being manipulated by those who don’t care about him in the least, but view the LG as easy to use and then discard.

Bolling is still a young man. If he is right about Cuccinelli, then the AG will lose big: and if Bolling just stays quiet, he would become the leading 2017 candidate for the GOP GUV nomination.

Professor Sabato is too polite to tell Bolling the truth: do you really have such a “jones” for Cuccinelli that you would destroy your own career to stop a candidate YOU DON’T BELIEVE CAN WIN ANYWAY?

It is such a bizarre notion that I think Dr. Sabato can’t really belief Bolling is going to take the bait.  

  • FreeDem

    It seems that the process for “conventional wisdom” is to repeat the talking points that come from the McAuliffe campaign. I admit, the McAuliffe campaign has some of the best communications staffers (spin masters) in the country. And local Virginia reporters are among the worst I’ve ever seen. But the idea that Bill Bolling, running as an Independent in support of Governor Bob McDonnell (generally popular) and the bipartisan effort to solve transportation, without the baggage that the other major candidates bring with them, was always going to be a threat to McAullife.

    Bolling could be perfectly designed to pick up the Obama voters who swung to McDonnell in 2009.

  • FreeDem

    “Bolling is still a young man. If he is right about Cuccinelli, then the AG will lose big: and if Bolling just stays quiet, he would become the leading 2017 candidate for the GOP GUV nomination.”

    Bolling’s heard that promise before. It won’t work.


    Lieutenant Governor cites financial, political and personal reasons for decision; pledges to continue working to build a better Virginia

    Richmond – Lieutenant Governor Bolling today released the following statement:

    “When I suspended my campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for Governor, I indicated that I wanted to be a more independent voice for Virginia, speaking out more objectively on the important issues facing our state. Over the past several months, I have done just that. I have sought to call Virginia to a higher purpose, focusing more on policy than politics and more on the next generation than the next election.

    “This more independent approach to governing led to widespread speculation that I was thinking about reviving my campaign for Governor as an Independent candidate. While that was not my initial intention, the reaction to a possible Independent campaign has been overwhelming, and for the past three months I have been going through a “due diligence” process, trying to objectively assess the feasibility of an Independent campaign.

    “Throughout this process my focus has been on one thing – what’s best for Virginia? I love Virginia and I want to make certain that we have a Governor who is committed to governing our state in a mainstream way; a Governor who will keep his focus on the big issues facing our state and work with Republicans and Democrats to solve problems, get things done and make Virginia a better place.

    “I’m confident I could be that kind of Governor. Throughout my career in public service, I have done my best to stand strong for the conservative values I believe in, while at the same time respecting the views of others and promoting consensus building and results, as opposed to confrontation and gridlock. That’s the kind of pragmatic, results oriented leadership we need to make certain that Virginia remains on the right track.

    “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. In many ways I would have enjoyed participating in such a campaign a great deal and I think it could have been good for Virginia.

    “However, after a great deal of consideration I have decided that I will not be an Independent candidate for Governor this year. There were many factors that influenced my decision to forgo such a campaign.

    “First, I know how difficult Independent campaigns can be. The biggest challenge an Independent candidate faces is fundraising. You can have a winning message, but if you don’t have the resources to effectively communicate that message to voters you cannot win. To run a winning campaign I would have needed to raise at least $10-$15M. That’s a very difficult thing to do without the resources of a major political party and national donors at your disposal. Based on my discussions with key donors over the past three weeks, I was confident I could raise enough money to run a competitive campaign, but I was not confident I could raise enough money to run a winning campaign. While it is possible that these resources could have been secured over time if the campaign progressed as we envisioned, that was an uncertain outcome and it was too big a risk for me to ask my donors to take.

    “Second, running as an Independent candidate would have required me to sever my longstanding relationship with the Republican Party. While I am very concerned about the current direction of the Republican Party, I still have many dear friends in the Republican Party, people who have been incredibly supportive of me over the years. I have tremendous respect for them and I am very grateful for everything they have done for me. I value these friendships a great deal and I feel a deep sense of personal obligation to those who have done so much to make my success possible. I have heard from many of these friends over the past several months. They have encouraged me to not give up on the Republican Party and continue working to get our party back on a more mainstream course. Maintaining their friendship and respect means more to me than the prospects of being Governor and I was unwilling to jeopardize these longstanding relationships by embarking on an Independent campaign.

    “Finally, my decision was heavily influenced by a growing dissatisfaction with the current political environment in Virginia. Politics is much different today than it was when I was first elected. In many ways I fear that the “Virginia way” of doing things is rapidly being replaced by the “Washington way” of doing things and that’s not good for Virginia. As a result, the political process has become much more ideologically driven, hyper-partisan and mean spirited. Rigid ideologies and personal political agendas are too often placed ahead of sound public policy and legitimate policy disagreements too quickly degenerate into unwarranted personal attacks. This makes it more difficult to govern effectively and get things done. While I still value public service a great deal, the truth is that I just don’t find the political process to be as enjoyable as I once did. Because of this, I decided that the time has come for me to step away from elected office and look for other ways to serve Virginia.

    “For all of these reasons, I decided that I will not be an Independent candidate for Governor in 2013. However, I truly appreciate the confidence and support of those who had encouraged me to do so and I hope they will understand and respect my decision.

    “There is no higher honor than the privilege of serving one’s fellow citizens in the halls of government. That privilege has been mine for the past 22 years. I am very grateful for the confidence the people of Virginia have placed in me. As a county Supervisor, a State Senator and Lieutenant Governor, I have done my best to serve them well. I hope I have been able to make a positive contribution to the betterment of our state.

    “I look forward to continuing my work with Governor McDonnell and the rest of our great team in the months to come. 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. I love Virginia and I will always be willing to do my part to help make Virginia a better place.

    “I wish Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli well as they begin their campaigns. One of these two candidates will have the responsibility of leading Virginia into the future. This is a tremendous responsibility and it should not be taken lightly. 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. That’s the kind of Governor the people of Virginia want and deserve.

    “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.”


    Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Bill Bolling

  • AndySchmooklerforCongress

    Given the announcement that Lowell has posted above, the analysis no longer matters in the same way.  Nonetheless, I still want to call attention to the point in Mr. Goldman’s otherwise very interesting piece where I could not follow the logic.

    Paul Goldman writes: “If Bolling runs a credible campaign, then his positions will by definition be geared to paint him as the “moderate”, pushing Terry to the left and Cuccinelli to the right.”

    I don’t see why McAuliffe would be pushed to the left.  He’ll be the Democratic nominee, the Democrats will prefer voting for their Democrat to voting for a Republican turned Independent; the people in the middle will be apt to vote for one of the major party candidates unless both turn them off too much; so why would McAuliffe feel a need to differentiate himself from a Bolling who has moved somewhat leftward?  (For that matter, I don’t see why Cuccinelli would feel any need to move further rightward with Bolling in the race.)

    As long as McAuliffe didn’t become so “moderate” that his Democratic base would be too alienated from him to give him their votes, it would seem to me that McAuliffe would be free to claim the center to the same degree as if Bolling were not in the race.

  • Richmond, VA – Following Bill Bolling’s announcement today that he will not mount an independent campaign for Governor, Ken Cuccinelli issued a statement praising Bolling and gushing over “all the McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli team has worked together to accomplish.”

    Somehow, Cuccinelli forgot to mention when he and his extreme Tea Party allies pushed Bolling out of the GOP race for Governor in the first place. Or just three weeks ago, when Cuccinelli repeatedly attempted to destroy a landmark transportation compromise that McDonnell and Bolling helped broker with a bipartisan coalition in the General Assembly.

    “After working to undermine McDonnell’s transportation compromise and drive Bolling out of the Republican Party, Ken Cuccinelli is on an extremist team of one,” said DPVA Executive Director Lauren Harmon. “Using an 11th hour gimmick to try and kill a historic mainstream transportation compromise proved yet again that no ‘team’ is more important to Ken Cuccinelli than his own extreme ideological agenda.”