Is the contest between Bolling, Cuccinelli, and McAuliffe just beginning? Or, is it about to be over by the time the General Assembly adjourns in a few weeks?
As predicted right here, Governor McDonnell's historic transportation plan, based on changing the financial equation at the heart of Virginia's road policy for roughly a century, is now the definer of the 2013 election. When first suggesting this, I got plenty of email all saying I was crazy. That being the case, then surely it will not surprise when I do the following:
Double down on the prediction. By the end of this month, certainly by the end of the General Assembly Session, one of four 2013 gubernatorial scenarios is going to be set in motion.
1. Lt. Governor Bill Bolling will be the first legitimate third-party candidate for governor in the state's modern history, running as the pro-McDonnell transportation guy against anti-McConnell plan Republican Ken Cuccinelli and anti-McDonnell plan Terry McAuliffe. The latter two will have their own plans, and everyone but the media will know they helped kill the McDonnell plan and that their plans have no chance of being enacted in 2014.
Under this scenario, Mr. Bolling actually has a real reason to run. His top guy, Boyd Marcus, knows how to shape a winning strategy. Assuming Boyd is still up to the task, his man Bolling will get a lot more votes than anyone thinks at this point. If Bolling has $30 million, he might actually have a chance of winning if a few other dominoes fall into place. But since these things will not happen, in the end, his presence in the race will elect Terry McAuliffe, and the entire Democratic ticket, the first D-sweep since Wilder led the party to such a win roughly 25 years ago.
But Bolling will not be seen as a spoiler. Why? Because under this scenario, the GOP will surely nominate an anti-McDonnell plan ticket. How crazy is that in an election year, the GOP nominating a ticket that is recommending itself to the people in part because they fought the transportation plan of their own incumbent governor? About as crazy as it gets. [Lowell's note: how about "Cuccinelli Crazy?"]
2. A Bolling candidacy is 50-50, given that Democrat Terry McAuliffe will run as a pro-McDonnell transportation plan advocate against anti-McDonnell plan Ken Cuccinelli. In this three-way race, assuming T-Mac doesn't make a big mistake or something happen out of the blue, Bolling would risk getting a very small percentage of the vote, as the moderate swing voters lined up in the end behind the Democrats for a big D-sweep. Bolling could claim Terry was "too liberal" on the other smaller issues, but this is just another yada, yada, yada, from Republicans who find every Democrat "too liberal" or "too pro-Obama." Whatever. In this scenario, Bolling probably takes more from Cuccinelli than from McAuliffe. But it doesn't matter, as the Democrats won't need any help. T-Mac gets a big mandate and the McDonnell/McAuliffe transportation plan gets passed in 2014. But Governor T-Mac gets all the credit.
3. Bolling has no legit reason to run, since Cuccinelli will run as a pro-McDonnell transportation plan guy, leading his party into the fall election on the same transportation wavelength, given the governor's stance and the vote of the House folks up for re-election. McAuliffe runs as the anti-McDonnell transportation guy in this scenario. In this case, Cuccinelli will win unless the AG is determined to convince every swing voter that he will be the most socially conservative activist governor in the state's history. Cuccinelli may be hard-wired to do this politically; surely, that is becoming my analysis. But assuming Cuccinelli figures that maybe he isn't the only moral guy to ever run for statewide office, and maybe other governors had a real smart reason for being practical, not ideological on everything (like Ronald Reagan when he was governor and president), then a pro-McDonnell Cuccinelli will prove too much for an anti-McDonnell T-Mac.
4. Bolling has no legit reason to run here either, as it will feature a pro-McDonnell Cuccinelli and pro-McDonnell McAuliffe in this final hypothetical on transportation. This would be one of the most fascinating races for governor in the history of Virginia. T-Mac should start with a clear lead. Again, if Cuccinelli insists on convincing people that for him, social ideology is JOB #1, then Terry wins and there is a good chance the Democrats could sweep, depending on the respective party nominees. If Cuccinelli can focus on the kind of budget/education/restoration of rights/mental health issues typical of VA gov. elections, he would have a decent shot at an upset if he had McDonnell's full support to help smooth the image. But T-Mac is still the favorite.
Plus, the stances of the running mates will figure here too, especially if one party or the other lines up three straight in the same pro, or anti, direction.
EXPLANATION: The 54-46 surprise vote in the House of Delegates on the governor's transportation plan will prove, in my judgment, the first step in passing it. Why? A Republican governor, a Republican Speaker of the House and an amazing number of conservative Republican delegates supported a bill considered a "tax increase" by anti-tax guru Grover Norquist. Do you think Eric Cantor would have voted for this if he were still in the VA House of Delegates?
Yes, the Democrats in the House and Senate make great policy points. But as I've said repeatedly, THAT SHIP HAS SAILED.
The Washington Post editorial today should be the canary in the coal mine on the 200-proof politics. It is what it is; the governor outflanked the Democrats on this one, and the GOP conservatives in the State Senate. That is the 200-proof political bottom line. Democrats were warned; they just didn't believe Speaker Howell could deliver the votes in the House. It was amazing.
MEANING: Dick Saslaw and Don McEachin, and their Senate posse can, indeed will and should, do the best they can to shape the final product. The House Dems can help too. But in the end, unless something totally unpredictable happens, Senate Democrats will have to provide the votes to pass it.
Which means as follows: The chances are 100% that Terry will endorse the final legislation if Senate Dems back it. 100%, Bolling is going to endorse the final transportation deal if McDonnell backs it. Meaning: Scenario 1 above isn't going to happen. It will be either Scenario 2, 3 or 4.
Leaving: What will Cuccinelli do? To me, this is the big mystery right now. There is right now a good chance the GOP will nominate a ticket led by Cuccinelli and having as candidates for LG and AG persons who will all be against the final transportation bill.
Which would mean: The Democrats would be backing Republican Governor McDonnell on his biggest accomplishment, and his own party would be running an anti-McDonnell ticket. Maybe you get Bolling in the mix, maybe not.
What are the Republicans going to do, call McDonnell and the Democrats "liberals big tax guys", yada, yada, yada? If Democrats can't win under these conditions, then either the voting machines are rigged, or something so unpredictable will have happened as to defy state history.
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