By Bob Lewis
The Associated Press
RICHMOND -- Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling ruled out an independent bid for Virginia governor Tuesday, clearing the way for a one-on-one major-party showdown between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
Bolling announced his decision in a Tuesday morning email to supporters, more than 3½ months after folding his Republican candidacy for the office in November and leaving Cuccinelli uncontested for the GOP nomination.
In the end, Bolling wrote, his decision came down to the daunting task an independent candidate faces raising money without the help of a major party, and the fact that the lifelong Republican would have to forever sever his ties to the GOP.
"You can have a winning message, but if you don't have the resources to effectively communicate that message to voters you cannot win," he wrote, saying he needed to raise $10 million to $15 million to wage a credible campaign.
"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," he said.
A campaign by Bolling would have been a major obstacle to unchallenged GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli, possibly diluting the conservative vote in Cuccinelli's race against McAuliffe.
Bolling neither endorsed nor criticized either major party candidate, but he voiced continued concern about the sharp right turn he sees the GOP making with Cuccinelli at the helm.
In their responses to Bolling's decision, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe each sought to establish solidarity with him.
Cuccinelli's campaign dismissed McAuliffe as "a career Washington Insider and Democrat fundraiser" and pledged to advance tax and education reforms and implement "a comprehensive transportation plan."
"That is what I will do as Virginia's next governor, just as the (Gov. Bob) McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli team has worked together to accomplish," Cuccinelli wrote in a statement. Cuccinelli didn't note his opposition to a bipartisan transportation funding package the General Assembly passed last month. Cuccinelli called it a major tax increase.
McAuliffe, without mentioning Cuccinelli by name, clearly labeled him as a conservative ideologue hostile to bipartisan solutions.
"Just this past month, I was pleased to join Lt. Gov. Bolling, Gov. McDonnell and both parties in the legislature to support a mainstream compromise on transportation. Despite the efforts of a few on the far right to derail the compromise, we were able to come together and address a major economic issue for Virginia," McAuliffe wrote in a press statement.
The only other candidate still in the race is one-time White House party crasher and former reality television figure Tareq Salahi, who also abandoned his little-known campaign to run as an even lesser-known independent.
Bolling had questioned whether Cuccinelli's starkly conservative positions were the right direction for 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," Bolling said.
Nearly two weeks ago, in a similar email to Republican leaders, party activists, community leaders and the press, Bolling sought advice about whether he should re-enter the race as an "independent Republican" or stay out. In it, he promised to put job creation and business development in the forefront of his policy agenda.
While tea party activists either vilified Bolling or urged him to stay out, perhaps the most prominent and persuasive voice to publicly urge him to stay out was that of GOP moderate state Sen. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico, a perennial favorite of the state's powerful business lobbies.
Bolling said he plans to "return to the private sector" and look for other ways to serve the state, not specifying whether that will include a later bid for elective office.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states to elect governors this year, and Virginia's race is the only one competitive. A recent Quinnipiac University statewide poll showed a tie between McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and fundraising guru for the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Cuccinelli, Virginia's activist conservative attorney general.
With Bolling in the race, according to the poll, McAuliffe edged to a tenuous lead of 3 percentage points, roughly the survey's margin of sampling error.
Read Bolling's entire e-mail: http://bit.ly/16p2LOE
Follow Bob Lewis - twitter@APBobLewis