Could Gun Debate Make Bill Bolling a Viable Virginia Gov. Candidate?


    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    by Paul Goldman

    If Bill Bolling intends to be taken seriously as an independent candidate for Governor – as opposed to a paramilitary drone hovering over Ken Cuccinelli with the mission to stop the de facto GOP candidate at all costs – then the developing gun rights debate might be his best chance for quick legitimacy.

    Why? The CW – Conventional Wisdom – is that any Virginia gubernatorial candidate who dares challenge the CW on guns is DOA. It is, as indicated, a circular argument to date since the CW has been essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is, of course, also true the CW has earned its CW status, the latest case in point being Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds. He ran for governor in 2009 after deciding to take the opposite tack on guns from 1993 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Sue Terry. In her race, Ms. Terry postured herself as not opposed to some small efforts at what opponents called gun control, in her case a waiting period before purchase in most circumstances if memory serves. She got crushed by Republican George Allen, although the gun control issue played only a minor part in my judgment.

    16 years later, Mr. Deeds thought he had outfoxed the GOP. He had carefully earned a top rating from the NRA, and also sponsored the new Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the rights of hunters and also fisherman. Once he got the Washington Post endorsement, he seemed the perfect Democratic candidate. In the end, Mr. Deeds got beat worse than Ms. Terry. All his efforts to find the silver bullet on guns left him locked, loaded…but firing blanks.

    So yes, the CW on the gun issue – no matter what the Dems do, they can’t win on it – isn’t merely an urban, or in this case, rural legend. In political terms, the equation has been thus: the gun rights issues matters HUGE to a minority of voters who fear losing said rights, and it matters LITTLE IF ANY to most voters who rank education, health care, transportation, budget issues, etc. their top priorities.

    But could 2013 prove different?  There are a number of reasons to believe it might. While Ken Cuccinelli is very predictable in his ideology, it is not always predictable where his ideological views will lead him regarding specific legislative proposals on every issue. In that regard, he has been far less doctrinaire than the allegedly “moderate independent” Bill Bolling, as the LG had a much more rigid conservative posture while he served as a colleague of the AG in the State Senate.

    Still, we can presume Cuccinelli will basically toe the NRA line on the gun debate. In a three-way race for governor, there would seem to be little political incentive for the K-man to freelance on the gun issue. He doesn’t want problems in that part of his base.

    Over on the Democratic side, the push by President  Obama on the gun issue puts Terry McAuliffe in a tough position as a matter of strategy. In a three-way race, he may not need much of the so-called independent, swing vote to win, assuming the Bolling camp runs a credible race to the very end. Thus, being seen as getting crosswise with President Obama makes little sense on the high-profile gun issue. The president has basically staked out what in political parlance would be called the left side position, the NRA the right side. There is thus room for McAuliffe to run a little rightward of the President if he wants. But too much rightward movement might lead to a lot of stories about the Dem gubernatorial candidate distancing himself from Obama, not a good headline for the T-Man.

    At the same time, it is likely McAuliffe will be counseled not to be seen as fully supportive of Obama’s gun agenda. Adding it all up, there is little reason right now for McAuliffe to be seen as challenging the CW on the gun issue in Virginia. Instead, don’t take any unnecessary risks, and figure on winning with the Dem base in a three-way contest. Sometimes boring is beautiful in politics.

    Enter, then, with “nothing to lose since he can’t win now anyway,” Bill Bolling, aka the once-loyal conservative henchman now transformed into the fighting independent moderate of lore. Not since the “New Nixon” has the media been hoodwinked more. Sooner or later, the Bolling levitation act is going to have to do more than saw someone in half.

    Moreover, if Bolling is going to win a three-way race (or even make a credible showing) he will need to get a lot of voters who supported the president last November. This can’t be done on the basis of his prior voting record. It also can’t be done on the basis of his service as LG, since Governor McDonnell will be supporting Cuccinelli.

    Rather, it has to be on the basis of blue smoke and mirrors; optics, as the word is used in politics. Somehow, someway, Bolling would have to gain a credible image as the “moderate, independent” third choice in the governor’s race.

    To repeat:  This is, of course, ludicrous, but perception is reality here, and to the extent there might be 38% of the voters looking for a third choice, in theory they could be gotten through a clever image building campaign. It would also take some major mistakes by T-Mac and Cuccinelli. But assume Bolling gets into the gubernatorial debates. This might make the TV stations agree to do a statewide broadcast debate, the first since Wilder vs. Coleman. As they say: “stuff happens” in debates. Just ask the president.

    But this doesn’t change the bottom image line: Bolling would have to show he can walk the walk, not merely talk the talk.

    Enter then, stage right, the gun debate. If you assume Cuccinelli doesn’t want to alienate the NRA, and you assume McAuliffe doesn’t figure the risk vs. reward on the gun issue adds up to taking any game changing risks. Which means that all the room to maneuver is owned by: Billy Bolling.

    To which I ask: Given the high profile of the issue due to the president’s stance, what would Bolling have to risk to be seen as challenging the status quo, not going as far as Mr. Obama, but a lot farther than any VA Republican in modern times?

    Strategy wise, we are talking image building for purposes of getting that swing suburban voter – mostly female I would think – who voted say for McDonnell in 2009 but thinks the K-Man is too risky, yet has historically supported the party not in the White House (the pattern since 1977). On paper, a “moderate” independent Bolling might with the right packaging be a viable choice.

    How does Bolling create that image? So far, he is running as the “anti-Cuccinelli” Republican. That has some appeal to a slice of the electorate, as the polls show. But logic suggests that if this is Bolling’s image in the end, then this vote will gravitate to the one person with the best anti-Cuccinelli credentials and leading in the polls, which will be Terry McAuliffe. So if Bolling keeps doing what he is doing from now until November, he is a vote-getting machine for McAuliffe. That’s why the T-Man made such a public pilgrimage to see Bolling the other day. Terry gets it.

    So you got to ask yourself: Why would Bolling fall on his sword to elect McAuliffe? There is no good reason, other than revenge against the Virginia GOP for choosing Cuccinelli over him. I don’t think Bolling wants to go out that way. So if he runs, he must think he can actually win. Bolling will thus try to be “moderate” in a credible way.

    What high profile issues does Bolling have? Not many. The gun issue may be one of a handful. Moreover, and this is my view, the CW on the gun issue may not be operating in 2013. As a general rule, a society doesn’t want to believe itself powerless to protect its kids, its loved ones.

    The issue for 2013 is this: Is it good politics to be seen as against any change the public believes might help, that gives them hope of not being at the mercy of gun violence? The answer is NO. Keeping guns out of the hands of those with mental illness is a no brainer, pardon the pun. But that’s not where the rubber meets the road in this debate.

    So, for example, suppose Bolling comes out for an assault rifle ban, or ban on huge bullet magazines, or universal background checks on all gun buyers? Cuccinelli says NO. What does Terry say? He will not want to be seen as the same as Cuccinelli. But what specifically would he support as compared to Bolling?

    In theory, there is a sweet spot where Bolling could seize the middle ground in the public eye. Given the nature of the issue right now, this would garner Bolling huge plaudits from the people he needs to have any chance at 38%. Is it risky? Sure. But it would be, as Pink Floyd might say, a brick in the wall.

    Bottom line: When you do the math on such issues as guns, it is clear that until Bolling shows some real independence on issues, he is merely out to stop Cuccinelli at all costs. That’s why a three-way race all but guarantees Terry McAuliffe winning, with the best chance of leading Dems to a sweep since Doug Wilder did it in 1989.

    In my view, Terry has an opportunity to win this thing early, earlier perhaps than any Democrat in modern times. At some point, the mere threat of a Bolling candidacy will do such damage to Cuccinelli – push him so far right image wise – that it will prove too much of a hole to climb out of even if Bolling decides not to run.  

    Thus, as to the Republicans who don’t seem to fear a three-way race, I say: For Democrats, the party is just beginning.  


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