Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling refused to endorse former rival Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor's race Thursday and wouldn't rule out running against Cuccinelli as a third-party independent.
"I'm a loyal soldier [for the Republican Party], but I'm going to do what I think is right for Virginia," Bolling said. "I know that will make some people uneasy or unhappy, but at the end of the day, I've got to do what I think is right, and right now I'm not comfortable making an endorsement."
Bolling suspended his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, conceding that he had little chance of beating Cuccinelli for the Republican nomination. Cuccinelli had outmaneuvered Bolling and convinced the party to nominate its gubernatorial candidate in a convention rather than a primary next spring, a move that gave Cuccinelli a decisive organizational edge over Bolling.
"In my heart, I didn't think we had a chance of winning," Bolling said.
Bolling asserted that Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat in the race, are far more ideological than the centrist candidates that Virginia voters typically elevate to the governor's office. And both "are going to have challenges convincing the people of Virginia they're capable of providing effective, mature and responsible leadership," Bolling said, hinting that there might be room for a third, more moderate contender.
Bolling said he has "no current intentions" to enter the race as an independent, but he also didn't rule out such a run.
Cuccinelli would not comment on Bolling's remarks.
Conservatives who back Cuccinelli derided Bolling for criticizing the state GOP and the attorney general as he exited the race for the party's nomination. Susan Stimpson, a Republican candidate seeking to replace Bolling as lieutenant governor, called Bolling's comments "a burn-the-house-down approach."
"While I understand his disappointment that he won't win the nomination, this position is simply indefensible and destroys his legacy as lieutenant governor," Stimpson wrote on her Facebook page. "Threatening to either not support our nominee or run as an independent undermines the very values Bill Bolling professes to support."
Bolling, who has a year left on his second term, said he would focus now on the upcoming General Assembly session and his role as the tie-breaking vote in a state Senate evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Bolling expects he will be freer to express himself and vote now that he doesn't have to worry about an election.
"I think we need that kind of an independent voice," he said.