Virginia is still bracing for a potentially explosive political year in 2012, but the 2013 race for governor is already heating up.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will host a campaign-style barbecue dinner Monday in Danville with his top ally, Gov. Bob McDonnell, at his side.
Though not officially billed as a campaign kickoff, the event is intended "to thank you for all you have done to support Gov. McDonnell and me over the past several years, to rally our forces in advance of the 2012 elections, and to begin laying the foundation for my own campaign for governor in 2013," Bolling said in an email to supporters this week.
Bolling faces a potentially grueling primary fight next year against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who announced his own gubernatorial campaign earlier this year.
Cuccinelli's entry into the race threatens to derail an agreement McDonnell and Bolling worked out in 2009, when Bolling agreed to seek a second term as lieutenant governor rather than run against McDonnell for governor. In exchange, McDonnell agreed to back Bolling for governor in 2013.
Cuccinelli's political director Noah Wall said the campaign plans to hold campaign events and fundraisers in 2012, but the bulk of the work won't begin until after the presidential election in November. Cuccinelli did not endorse anyone in the Republican presidential contest and hasn't backed anyone in Virginia's hotly contested U.S. Senate race. But he will "be aggressive this year in campaigning for Republican nominees," Wall said.
Bolling is fighting Cuccinelli's rising celebrity in conservative circles, following the attorney general's high-profile battles with the Obama administration over health care reform and environmental regulations and his performance at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference.
The lieutenant governorship is a lesser-known, part-time position that Bolling has tried to amplify by playing a key role in McDonnell's economic development efforts. To help, McDonnell rarely makes a jobs announcement without mentioning Bolling.
"The attorney general position does afford a lot of visibility due to the nature of the issues he works on both in Virginia and nationally," Bolling spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said. "But [Bolling] does have his portfolio, too."