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The lieutenant governor said he wishes he had given voters another choice.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
RICHMOND — He coulda been a contender.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has heard that refrain enough in the five months since he decided not to mount an independent bid for governor. Over time and with the benefit of hindsight, he’s come close to believing it.
“Given the way this campaign has evolved, it may well have broke our way,” he said in an interview. “We may well have been able to run a more competitive campaign than I thought we could run.”
The call for an alternative has gotten louder in recent weeks as Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli have pummeled each other with negative attacks.
The deadline for getting on the ballot passed in June. But dissatisfaction has raised another possibility: Bill Bolling, write-in candidate.
Bolling admits that he has been approached by several people about the idea. He calls it a long shot and “not a viable option” in terms of being able to win. But he doesn’t call it out of the question.
“I chose not to run as an independent candidate because I just felt it would be very hard to run a winning campaign as an independent candidate,” he said. “It would be even more challenging to run a winning campaign as a write-in candidate.
“I think it’s a very long-term shot, but stranger things have happened,” Bolling continued. “And given the current course of this campaign, you just never know where it’s going to go over the course of the next several weeks.”
Long shot may be an understatement. In federal elections, for instance, only three people have ever won U.S. Senate seats by write-in votes, the most recent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in 2010.
In Kansas a write-in candidate for governor got 29.5 percent of the vote in 1930, but lost.
In a tight election, a write-in campaign could succeed in siphoning off enough votes to affect the outcome of the race.
“A well-funded, professionally run write-in campaign could have a measureable impact,” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“There are so many people who don’t like the major-party nominees, you hear it everywhere,” he added. “Sure, most people will end up voting their party label, but a Bolling option could actually increase the overall turnout — adding independent-minded or alienated voters who just wouldn’t have shown up otherwise.”
The impact changes if the write-in effort is not run professionally.
“Virginia has 8 million people, and it is tough to get attention for a message without some real money behind the effort,” Sabato said. “Also, Bolling would have to be visible. Front porch campaigns went out with the 19th century.”
The real question, said Sabato, is which candidate would be most helped or hurt by a serious write-in campaign — an issue that remains unresolved, he said.
Bolling downplays the idea that he could still be a factor in the race.
“Based on everything I’m hearing, I suspect that I may get a few write-in votes,” he said. “I just hope I get more than Donald Duck.”
Bolling said he understands the frustration of voters over the campaigns and the choices they have, “but these are the two candidates that the major political parties have brought us, and the likelihood is that one of these two guys is going to be the next governor of Virginia.”
The lieutenant governor said he thinks one of the candidates could “break out of this race” if they shifted their campaigns toward a more positive message that trumpets their reasons for wanting to run the state, more than why Virginians should avoid the other guy.
It’s a theme he has been pushing since officially getting out of the race and rechanneling his efforts through his Virginia Mainstream Project.
“Perhaps we could just stipulate that Ken Cuccinelli is a right-wing ideologue and Terry McAuliffe is a guy who has spent more time in Washington than Virginia,” he said. “Perhaps we could just stipulate those things and move on” to jobs, the economy, education, transportation and health care, he said.
There may be signs both sides are listening. McAuliffe this week launched a “Biotech and Innovation Platform” and Cuccinelli rolled out a K-12 education plan.
Bolling sticks by his belief that he made the right decision at the time that he had to decide whether to run as an independent. He also emphasized that “you just can’t live your life with hindsight.”
“What I do regret is that people don’t have another choice, I do regret that,” he said. “Whether I would have won or not, I could have given people another choice.”
So what happens in November, when Bolling, like so many other registered voters, has a choice to make?
Will he go the write-in route — and vote for … Bill Bolling?
“I’m not going to answer that,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll just say this — ‘Bolling’ is a lot easier to spell than ‘Murkowski.’ ”
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