Will Bill Bolling run for governor as an independent?

bill bollingAt first glance, the numbers don’t seem to add up. Polling released earlier this month has Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling sitting in the mid-teens among Virginia voters in a hypothetical three-way race for governor if Bolling were to run as an independent against Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, and mid-teens is nowhere near where you’d like to be in a three-way race, since at the least you’d need to be in the mid-30s to win a three-way.

So the numbers would seem to be bad news for Bolling and for those Virginia voters who aren’t enamored with either McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chair, or Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite.

There is a silver lining in the numbers, which have Bolling viewed significantly more favorably than either of the presumptive major-party nominees. The survey from Public Policy Polling had Bolling with a roughly 2-to-1 favorable/unfavorable rating among voters with an opinion of his job performance.

(The limitation there being that a majority of voters have no opinion of Bolling one way or the other, despite him having served in the state’s #2 job for seven-plus years now.)

Both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, for their part, were pretty much at 1-to-1 favorable/unfavorable ratings among voters, and with history as a guide, those numbers are not likely to move much one way or the other over the next nine months.

It would seem to stand to reason, meanwhile, that Bolling would maintain his generally positive rating as more voters would become aware of who he is and what he stands for,  and that he could thus make some gains vis-a-vis his standing in the three-way race.

How much he could expect to make in gains is the question.

“I’m pretty confident I could get 20 or 25 percent of the vote as an independent candidate, but that’s not enough to win, and what we have to figure out is can we get enough to win,” Bolling said in an interview earlier this month, summing up where the potential independent campaign stands at this point in time.

He explicitly doesn’t want to “be a spoiler of some sort,” he said, which makes sense given his 30-plus years as a member of the Repubilcan Party.

At this point in time, a Bolling candidacy only seems to make it that much more likely that McAuliffe would be elected governor in November. McAuliffe in the PPP poll had a lead in the five-point range in a one-on-one race with Cuccinelli and the eight-point range when Bolling was included as a third candidate.

And as much as it would seem to be a possibility that Bolling could see his numbers improve if and when he would begin an active independent campaign, it’s just as possible that the numbers could go in the other direction, as we saw in 2005 when Republican State Sen. Russ Potts seemed to be poised to make that year’s governor’s race interesting when he began polling in the low-double-digits in the summer, only to fall to 2 percent by Election Day.

Is Bolling the next Russ Potts, or the next Ross Perot, who made the 1992 presidential race interesting while still finishing a distant third? Or is he the next Jesse Ventura, whose numbers improved steadily in what became a stunning upset 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial victory?

The bet here is that, one, Bolling makes an effort at it, based on a read that it is possible that if lightning strikes he could pull off the upset of the two major-party candidates, and two, that at best he ends up actually performing somewhere between Perot and Ventura, in the 20 to 25 percent range, making things interesting, but ultimately doing little more than playing the role of spoiler who guarantees that McAuliffe is elected governor.

Column by Chris Graham/AugustaFreePress.com editor

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