By Paul Goldman
Now that Ken Cuccinelli has technically won the GOP gubernatorial nomination – the time for filing as a candidate in the GOP Convention process closed yesterday without Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling putting in the required papers – should the attorney general make Virginia history by calling on his party to scrap the convention and instead hold a primary to determine the nominee?
An obscure state law, Virginia Code Section 24.2-509, as modified by additional sections 24.2-516, and 528, would allow for such an unprecedented move.
As a matter of practical politics, this loophole in the law may be the only way for Cuccinelli and the Virginia GOP to avoid being sure losers in 2013 should Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling do what seems increasing likely — run for governor as an Independent candidate.
In giving Bolling the total “freeze out” – refusing to even meet with him – the Cuccinelli camp is daring Bolling to run.
It is one thing to have a “my way or the highway” attitude after you win, but to act so stubborn and ideological during an election year defies political logic.
You can’t even call the guy?
This is surely not gubernatorial.
The fight between Cuccinelli and Bolling is so bad right now, Governor Bob McDonnell hasn’t even tried to bridge the gap even though the feud is going to make McDonnell collateral damage.
A three-way race in 2013 featuring a Virginia GOP in chaos is not going to help McDonnell’s 2016 presidential bid.
Which brings to me to those obscure Virginia laws.
If Bolling runs three way, Cuccinelli loses unless something unpredictable, indeed unprecedented happens.
Game theory has a clear answer as regards this looming train wreck:
The more Cuccinelli and the Virginia GOP believe Bolling is going to run, the more they need to consider scrapping the convention and go back to the gubernatorial primary originally contemplated.
Can this be done legally?
Under Virginia law, the GOP has to inform the State Board of Elections whether they will call a primary during a very specific statutory window.
The law says this window is “not more than 125 days and not less than 105 days before the date set for the primaries.”
Given that the primary date is June 11, a quick calculation puts the parameters between say February 3 and February 25, give or take a few days. By law, this is the only time the GOP can officially declare its intentions on its method of choosing a gubernatorial nominee.
All other statements are inoperative once the official position is made known to the Board in this time window.
THE LAW SEEMS CLEAR ENOUGH
If the GOP tells the Board the party wants to hold a primary for governor on June 11 (they can keep the convention for LG and AG), then the primary is King and the Convention a footnote in history as a matter of law.
This change would force Cuccinelli and Bolling to hustle to get the 10,000 signatures of qualified voters required to get on the ballot by March 28. But given their resources, it is easy to do.
The political logic is plain enough.
The greater the likelihood of Cuccinelli having to face Bolling on a general election ballot, the stronger the argument for Cuccinelli going head to head with the Lt. Governor in a Republican primary instead.
If Cuccinelli can’t beat Bolling among Republicans, then he surely cannot win a three-way general election.
Most importantly, if Bolling runs, as he said he would, in a GOP primary, then he can’t have his name on the ballot in November as an Independent candidate if he loses to Cuccinelli.
Yes, a primary would be divisive, but so will a three-way general election contest.
Yes, in theory Democrats and other non-Republicans could vote in a primary, but there is a Democratic primary on the same day to pick the party’s Lt. Governor and Attorney General candidates.
Thus the chance of a big cross-over is small since in Virginia a voter can only vote in one primary on the same day.
Besides, even if Democrats vote in the GOP gubernatorial primary, there is no way to know who they might vote for.
Bottom line: There is only one way for Cuccinelli to guarantee that Bolling doesn’t appear as a spoiler on the November ballot, and that is to take the Lt. Governor up on his challenge to defeat the Attorney General in a GOP primary.
True, Bolling may not run, indeed the smart players don’t believe he will run for governor, or at best gather the signatures, maybe file them, but ultimately drop out before getting his name printed on the ballot. There is no way to know for sure.
So Cuccinelli could play the conventional wisdom and hope Bolling doesn’t run.
Yet the Attorney General prides himself on not following the conventional wisdom.
Should Cuccinelli call Bolling’s bluff and offer to scrap his convention win for the first contested GOP gubernatorial primary in 24 years? When you apply game theory to the political math, the answer is: YES.
Otherwise, Cuccinelli’s fate is almost totally in the hands of someone who doesn’t want him to be governor. This is no way to run a campaign for governor.
Under any circumstances, Cuccinelli’s image makes him the underdog in the general election. A big primary win over Bolling can only improve those odds.
Giving up a sure convention win for the uncertain fate of a hotly contested primary would be unmatched in American political history.
It defies the conventional wisdom big time.
But if Cuccinelli believes there is even a modest chance of Bolling running as an independent, game theory says the Attorney General has to take that option off the table if he can.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.