Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling just removed himself from contention for the 2013 Republican gubernatorial nomination, and I’m going to tell you why you should care.
Right now, everybody has election fatigue, myself very much included. I checked my e-mail yesterday and was actually relieved to find ads for Viagra from Bangladesh instead of the 250 fundraising e-mails that I got on a daily basis for most of 2012.
The general consensus is that things are settled. Obama won, the nuttier element of the Republican Party got told where to go, gays and lesbians can get married in more states, people in Washington and Colorado are now free to strap bongs to their faces, and all is right with the world. Only total obsessives with no lives whatsoever would be concerned about the Virginia governor’s race, right?
Besides, any life-challenged New Yorkers are probably focused entirely on the only other gubernatorial election going on in 2013, which would be right over the river in New Jersey. That’s understandable, especially if it turns out to be Christie vs. Booker. But no matter how that election turns out, it’s not going to tell us anything. If you remove the charisma and the bluster and the sound bites, what you have is a competent, inclusive, deal-making, moderate Republican incumbent running against a young, Democratic urban mayor in a state that has been reliably blue since 1988. In other words, no matter who wins, it’s doubtful that anyone will look at the results and say “Holy !@#$, they elected THAT GUY?”
Virginia is a different story altogether, mainly because since Bolling hit the eject button on his bid for Richmond, the path is now clear for a guy named Ken Cuccinelli, and he’s about as moderate as a punch in the face. If he wins, which is very possible, any talk of the Republican Party moving back to the center will go by the wayside.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Virginia went blue last month. It went blue in ’08 as well, and the very next year they elected Bob McDonnell as Governor. McDonnell graduated from Pat Robertson’s law school on the back of a thesis that actually used the word “fornicators,” and Virginia had no problems putting this guy in office. It didn’t help that he was running against Creigh Deeds, who wasn’t necessarily a bad guy, but he was about as charismatic as a cold bowl of oatmeal. Plus turnout was pretty low. A lot of Virginians who voted Democrat the year before thought they were covered in magical Obama pixie dust and wouldn’t need to concern themselves with what went on in Richmond anymore.
They absolutely should have, because along with McDonnell, Ken Cuccinelli was elected as the Attorney General. While McDonnell was at least able to moderate his personal beliefs as governor, Ken was under no such restraints.
He hadn’t been in office for three months before he demanded that public colleges and universities in Virginia remove their anti-discrimination policies for gay and lesbian employees, faculty and students. His argument was that since the schools were publically funded, and since the state legislature had never included gays and lesbians in their anti-discrimination policies, Virginia universities had no right to offer them legal protections of any sort. It was a clever way to please the Lynchburg and Virginia Beach folks while camouflaging it as just him being a stickler for procedure.
That was just one of his high-profile, wingnut-pleasing moves. He demanded that the University of Virginia turn over any and all e-mails sent or received by noted climate change scientist Michael Mann so he could check for evidence of fraud against Virginia taxpayers. Mann had applied for research grants from the state and had left UVA by 2005, but in 2009 somebody hacked the e-mail servers of the Climatic Research Institute, where Mann was then working. Years of overwhelming scientific consensus was thrown into doubt, mostly because one of the e-mails contained the word “trick,” and that was probably the only word on those e-mails that any of the climate change deniers actually understood. (And they still misunderstood it.)
Cuccinelli’s request for the e-mails was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court, but his attempts certainly gained him the respect of people who believe that climate change is just a way for the government to come for your Ford F-150.
If you go down the wish list of every teeth-grinding, talk radio-listening conservative, Ken’s hit a lot of the items. First to file a state lawsuit against Obamacare? Check. Pushing for college students to be allowed to carry concealed weapons on Virginia campuses? Boy howdy. Trying to make abortion impossible if not illegal by coming up with new regulations that would have been impossible for clinics to meet? Ken’s your guy. Granted, a lot of his moves were overturned, buried, or otherwise ignored, but at least he tried, didn’t he?
Mention moderation to the Republican Party in Virginia and those guys simply can’t stop laughing. Normally, candidates in Virginia are settled through a primary, but this year the Republican nomination was taken away from the voters and is being determined through a closed convention. Bill Bolling, who is a Republican but not a zealot, might have been able to win if the primary was on a ballot, but the Party has made it clear that they want Cuccinelli.
So here’s the big difference between the New Jersey election and the Virginia election: A Cuccinelli victory in Virginia can be considered a bellwether election for which way the Republican Party is going to go. If Cuccinelli wins, social conservatives and tea partiers can point to Virginia and make the argument that going Stone Age isn’t the political suicide that everyone thought it was. If he loses, all this talk of “moderation” might actually turn into something. If anybody is eagerly looking for the Republican Party to skitter away from the fringes, they might want to wait until the Virginia election is over.