Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's expected bid for governor has suffered yet another setback Wednesday when a new poll showed him running far behind Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the 2013 Republican nomination.
Cuccinelli holds a resounding 51 percent to 15 percent lead over Bolling, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, underscoring Cuccinelli's high name recognition and strong standing among conservatives.
Bolling, meanwhile, remains an under-the-radar figure in Virginia politics, even though he gained broad media attention this year as the tie-breaking vote in a state Senate equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Some 44 percent of Republican respondents had no opinion of him, virtually unchanged from a year ago.
The bad news could get worse for Bolling on June 15, when the Republican State Central Committee decides whether to stick with its plan to hold a primary election for governor in 2013, which would benefit Bolling, or switch instead to a nominating convention, which would favor Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli's supporters in recent weeks won nearly two dozen committee seats and now may have enough votes to make the change to a convention.
"We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and made numerous strategic and staffing decisions over the past eight months in reliance upon the decision of the State Central Committee to nominate by primary," Bolling spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said. "The lieutenant governor believes that changing the rules at this time is improper, unfair and procedurally out of order."
Bolling and Gov. Bob McDonnell, Bolling's top ally, said switching to a convention would hurt the four other candidates who have announced campaigns for statewide office on the assumption there would be a primary.
But at least one of those candidates would welcome a convention. Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate to replace Bolling as lieutenant governor, said his campaign would not be harmed by a switch at this point.
"Personally, I kind of like conventions," Stewart said. "They tend to favor more conservative candidates and that would clearly benefit me. For my own selfish reasons, I would like to see a convention."
Bolling warned that if party operatives overturn the primary in favor of a convention in June, his allies could force another vote as late as October or December to switch it back, causing serious problems for the party's candidates.
A convention benefits Cuccinelli, a Tea Party darling, because independents and moderates are typically shut out of the process, and his campaign would welcome it.
"We're confident of Ken's ability to run and win in whichever method of nomination the State Central Committee decides is best for the party," spokesman Noah Wall said.