This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling on Tuesday decided against mounting an independent campaign for the governor’s mansion this year. His decision essentially leaves the race to two of the commonwealth’s most high-profile figures; Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. We’ll explore the dynamics of the race, which will continue to draw nationwide attention over the coming year.
- Bob Gibson Executive Director, Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, University of Virginia
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; Author, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." (The History Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the story behind one of the most enduring and misunderstood musical pieces of all time. We learn about Handel's "Messiah." But first, none of Virginia's gubernatorial candidates is ready to start belting out the Hallelujah Chorus. But the race for Richmond got a little more interesting yesterday when Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling decided against mounting an independent campaign.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBolling is essentially leaving the field to the presumptive Republican candidate, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who's all but guaranteed his party's nomination. Joining us to explore the dynamics of the race, which is generating nationwide headlines, is Michael Pope. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection Newspapers. He's the author of several books, the most recent of which is titled "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington." Michael Pope, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL POPEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Bob Gibson. He is the executive director of the Thomas C. Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Bob covered Virginia politics as a reporter and a columnist for the Charlottesville Daily Progress for more than 30 years. Hi, Bob.
MR. BOB GIBSONHi, Kojo. (unintelligible) to join you.
NNAMDIGood to have you aboard. Michael Pope. I'll start with you. Bill Bolling made it clear for years that he wanted the Republican nomination in this race. He dropped out of the Republican race last year when he said it became clear he couldn't win in a nominating convention. He then threatened to run anyway as an independent. But yesterday he pulled the plug on that idea. Why did he decide in the end against an independent campaign?
POPEWell, his written statement outlined three main reasons, the first of which is the challenge of raising money for an independent candidate not tied to a major party. The second reason was his longtime ties to the Republican Party dating back to 1991 when he was first elected to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors. And the third reason was the -- what he called the ugly nature of politics -- modern politics. And he castigated what he called the Washington way of doing things, saying that it was supplanting to him what he feels is the Virginia way of doing things.
NNAMDIIs it safe, Michael, to say at this point that the field is set or are there other Republicans or Democrats or independents who feel that they could jump in at this point and make noise?
POPEThe field is pretty much set. The Republican candidate is Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The Democratic candidate is former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. There has -- there really hasn't been any talk of any other Democrats or Republicans entering the race. Although the Bolling decision has sort of launched, you know, more intensive discussions about other potential independent candidates that might jump into the race. But nobody has actually, you know, formally announced yet.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to jump into this conversation call us at 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael, Bolling said in his email announcement yesterday that he had grown frustrated with the Republican Party but that he did not want to give up on it. What's the basis of those frustrations?
POPEWell, the Lieutenant Governor felt, and said this on several occasions, that he was frustrated with the direction that Cuccinelli and his supporters were taking the party, which he felt was too conservative. If you look at the Lieutenant Governor's actions, he was trying to stake out a middle ground for himself on issues like expanding Medicaid for example or mining for uranium. He also opposed the Republican plan for re-redistricting the Senate.
POPESo, you know, the -- Bill Bolling was clearly trying to put himself in that center space of moderate, somewhere between, you know, what he viewed as the extreme right wing represented by Cuccinelli and the left represented by McAuliffe.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow or go to our website kojosho.org if you have questions or comments. We're talking about the decision of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bob (sic) Bolling not to enter the race for governor as an independent. Talking with Michael Pope. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection Newspapers. And Bob Gibson, executive director of the Thomas C. Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.
NNAMDIBob, who does Bolling's announcement benefit more, Ken Cuccinelli or Terry McAuliffe?
GIBSONWell, I think the conventional wisdom is that it would benefit Ken Cuccinelli more because he would be taking more Republican moderate votes from ken Cuccinelli than he would be taking moderate Democratic votes from Terry McAuliffe. And I sort of buy that but I think it's sort of unproven. And the polling shows a close race between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe, whether Bolling is in the race or not. And I think he would take from both sides.
GIBSONSo anyone can enter this race with $20 million. If you have 20 million you're -- you can be a player. Bill Bolling couldn't raise 20 million and saw that so he decided not to be a player, although he said at the end of his statement that he intends to continue to be an independent voice. So I expect Bill Bolling to continue to speak out and not necessarily to speak out loudly on behalf of everything that the Republicans stand -- or Ken Cuccinelli will be saying.
NNAMDIBob, what sense do you have for whether the Republicans who wanted to support Bolling's independent candidacy are going to stick with the GOP and vote for Cuccinelli? Or are any of them poachable for Terry McAuliffe?
GIBSONOf course they're poachable. Both parties have poachable voters in Virginia. And the independent ranks in Virginia have been growing in recent years and polling as the Republican ranks have become a little more ideologically tiller to the right. And so the Democratic base is fairly and ideologically pure on the left. There are plenty of folks in the middle. In fact, you can look at it as sort of a 40-30-30, 40 percent moderate independent other in the middle somewhere. And then a strong base that's 30 percent of strong Republicans who are going to be out there quite actively for Ken Cuccinelli and 30 percent strong Democrats are going to be out there for Terry McAuliffe.
NNAMDIBob, Bolling wrote yesterday that he is upset that the Virginia way of politics has given way lately to what he called a Washington way, a more partisan way. What did you make of that?
GIBSONWell, he's not the only person who's upset about that. There are a lot of people in both parties in Virginia and a lot of people who are associated with neither party in Virginia who feel that our politics in the state, in the Commonwealth are becoming a little too much more like Washington, a little too partisan hard edged, and a little too reluctant to meet in the middle. A little too reluctant to find common ground and talk to each other.
GIBSONBecause the incentive for people on the right is not to compromise and the incentive for people on the left is not to compromise. If there's no election in November that is basically seen as a fair contest. And in Virginia 80 percent or 90 percent of the elections, all those that are not statewide elections, are not seen as fair fights in November. They're tilted to one party or the other through redistricting.
GIBSONSo the incentive of office holders is to be true to the party base instead of being true to the middle.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the telephones, starting with Mark in Herndon, Va. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi. This is more of a comment I guess about Cuccinelli and the fact he's running and Bolling's dropping out. I mean, really what this represents, I think, is the culmination of what's been happening, you know, within the Republican Party on a national scale, but certainly within Virginia. It's a party that appears to be catering to the far right. It appears to have anti-woman kind of tendency, the anti-immigrant, anti-progress.
MARKSo really, you know, to some extent it seems like the inmates have taken over the asylum, if you will, within that party. And I think that it does get to kind of the ranker going on in politics in Virginia and nationally. But I think it's -- the last election I would think would prove to be a bit of a wake-up call. And you've heard some of the Republican Party say, well, we need to cater to more than just this -- you know, this outside right fringe. And I think that's why they've lost them, quite honestly. I think that this is an indication of that continued drive to do that, which I think in the end, you know, spells for -- or means failure down the road.
NNAMDIOh Mark, thank you very much for your call. We do accept comments of course. And he mentioned, both Bob and Michael, the last election. And I'd like to mention the most recent legislative session in the Virginia General Assembly. Bob Gibson, the core mission in a lot of ways of the Sorenson Institute is to try to encourage political dialogue by people who may have different points of view. What sense to you have -- and then the same question to you, Michael Pope -- what sense to you have for how the results of this most recent legislative session and the election, frankly, are going to affect what happens in November?
GIBSONWell, I think it was a pleasant surprise to a lot of people that they were able to accomplish something for transportation. Even though it's an imperfect bill, it was a compromise. The Democrats basically had great say in how it ended up, and the Republicans compromised on Governor McDonnell's original proposal. And he only had about half of his Republican legislators voting with him in the end on the floor on the transportation funding package that finally passed.
GIBSONSo it's something that truly was crafted through both parties. And you can still do that a little bit more in Virginia than you can in the capital, it seems, in Washington.
NNAMDIMichael Pope, how do you expect Republicans and Democrats respectively are going to try to leverage this most recent legislative session in the upcoming election?
POPESure. Well, Mark in Herndon feels like the inmates have taken over the asylum but I think that takeover has yet to happen. And if we look at this most recent session, you know, one thing that really jumps out at you is this transportation package, which was supported by the Republican governor. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate also supported the transportation agreement. Bill Bolling spoke in favor of the transportation agreement. But Ken Cuccinelli spoke out against this agreement.
POPEAnd so that's going to play out in the upcoming election cycle because McDonnell has endorsed Cuccinelli and will be, you know, expected to campaign on his behalf. But this transportation deal is going to become a topic in the upcoming campaign cycle. And there is this division between McDonnell, who supported the transportation agreement and Cuccinelli who spoke out against it.
NNAMDIBob Gibson, is it too early to tell which issues are going to be winning issues for each of the candidates?
GIBSONI think it is a little bit early to be telling that. The most important thing that the two candidates are looking at right now is who will the electorate be in November? Will it be an electorate that's anywhere near the size of a presidential electorate, in which case Terry McAuliffe is in relatively good shape, or will it be an electorate the size of 40 percent of those registered voters who go to the polls who elected Bob McDonnell governor by 18 percentage points last time in Virginia there was a gubernatorial race?
GIBSONSo the smaller the electorate the more it probably favors the base candidate. And in this case the candidate with a strong activist conservative Republican base, Ken Cuccinelli, I think would have to be a slight favorite with a 40 percent electorate in November. Whereas Terry McAuliffe, if it's 50 percent or more, he's probably doing fairly well. So how -- the issues are going to be what turns those voters out.
NNAMDIMichael Pope, same question to you. What issues do you think might be the ones that turn voters out?
POPEWell, this issue of who is going to be the electorate actually is the key issue in the upcoming election because if you look at, you know, a lot of the swing jurisdictions, you know, some of which are up here at Northern Virginia -- Prince William County comes to mind -- Obama won that in the most recent election. But McDonnell won that when he ran for governor. And so it sort of really depends on who shows up on Election Day. It's a much smaller electorate. It's a much less diverse electorate.
NNAMDIAnd so, you know, those swing districts are going to be very important as we move forward into the upcoming election cycle.
NNAMDIMichael Pope is a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection Newspapers. He's author of several books, the most recent of which is titled, "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington." Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBob Gibson, executive director of the Thomas C. Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Bob, always a pleasure. Thank you for joining us.
GIBSONAlways enjoy it. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the story behind one of the most enduring and misunderstood musical pieces of all time. We learn about Handel's "Messiah." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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