Results of a recent poll on the 2013 Virginia governor's race show Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling trailing well behind if he were to launch an independent candicacy against Democrat Terry McAuliffe and fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
But Bolling and his camp see opportunity in the numbers and remain bullish on his potential to contend in November.
"I think they show that there clearly is a legitimate opening in this case for a more independent voice," Bolling said in an interview Wednesday evening.
"I think these polls show that there is a general uncertainty and uncomfortableness with both Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. McAuliffe at this point in the campaign and I think that creates an opening for a more indpendent voice."
Bolling was referring to January polls conducted by Public Policy Polling and Quinnipiac University. The Quinnipiac survey showed Bolling drawing 13 percent of the vote in a three-way race with McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, who each polled at 34 percent. The Public Policy survey gave Bolling 15 percent, with McAuliffe pulling 40 percent and Cuccinelli at 32 percent.
Bolling is serving his second term as lieutenant governor after deferring his gubernatorial ambitions in 2009 to allow then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell an unobstructed run for the GOP nomination. McDonnell, Bolling and Cuccinelli, a former state senator, then went on to sweep the statewide elections, with Cuccinelli winning election as attormney general.
But in late 2011, Cuccinelli decided to enter the 2013 race for governor, and in mid-2012, his supporters wrested control of the state party's central committee and voted to change the nominating process from an open statewide primary to a convention -- a move that favored the attorney general, who enjoys strong gras-roots support from Tea Party conservatives.
Despite earlier polling that suggested Bolling might fare better than Cuccinelli in a general election against Democrats, Bolling late last year decided to withdraw from the GOP nomination battle, saying he could not see a path to victory over Cuccinelli in a convention format.
But this time, the Hanover conservative did not simply slip into a supportive and subordinate role for his party. Instead, he refused to endorse Cuccinelli and floated the idea of an independent candidacy, attempting to gauge whether disaffected party loyalists and independents could offer enough support to bankroll a legitimate challenge.
Bolling Wednesday appeared buoyed by the support shown in the polls, which he said mirrored his own internal polling. He also is encouraged that his favorable-to-unfavorable ratings are better than the other candidates.
McAuliffe, a McLean businessman who lost a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2009, is perhaps best known nationally for his fundraising prowess as the high-octane chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a personal friend of former President Bill Clinton.
Cuccinelli has garnered national recognition for his conservative crusades against federal health care and environmental regulations. But he has also drawn criticism from women's groups and others for his positions opposing abortion, gay rights, and climate change.
Bolling said more work and research is required before he can determine whether he can garner enough support and raise enough money to have a realistic chance to win.
"Even though I haven't announced a candidacy, we start with a pretty solid basis of support," he said. "I'm pretty confident I could get 20 or 25 percent of the vote as an independent candidate, but that's not enough to win, and what we have to figure out is can we get enough to win."
Bolling said he would not officially enter the race unless he thought he could win. "I don't want to get in this race just to be a spoiler of some sort," he said.
Also complicating a potential candidacy is the question of whether Bolling really wants to pursue a campaign that could further alienate him from the Republican Party to which he has been loyal for the last 30 years.
"I love the Republican Party -- it represents the principles and values of government I believe in," said Bolling.
While Bolling described himself as having many friendships and supporters among the GOP ranks, he said the party is "in search of an identity."
"I'm very concerned about the direction of our party," he said.
If Bolling does go rogue, he'll have to do it without his biggest supporter. Gov. Bob McDonnell supported Bolling in his nominating contest with Cuccinelli until Bolling withdrew. Since that time, the governor has pledged support for Cuccinelli, the presumptive party nominee, and agreed to do several fundraisers for him. Bolling says he understands.
"The governor and I are very close personal friends -- we been colleagues and allies for a long, long time and nothing is going to change that," Bolling said. "With respect to the gubernatorial campaign, he's got to do what hes got to do, as the titular head of the Republican Party ... and I fully understand that." ___