The surprise decision by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to drop out of the governor’s race this week would seem to prove an old axiom: He who hesitates is lost.
More specifically: In the modern era of Virginia politics (which I date from the election of Linwood Holton as the first Republican governor in 1969), every lieutenant governor or attorney general who has sought re-election has ultimately failed to win the governorship.
They may have thought that by holding back, they’d get more favorable circumstances four years later. They didn’t.
Here’s the list:
* Andrew Miller. Elected attorney general in 1969, he chose to run for re-election in 1973, thereby avoiding a lot of political messiness that year (Henry Howell vs. Mills Godwin for governor, for us old-timers.) and presumably setting himself up for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1977. Miller (who hailed from Washington County) was the prohibitive favorite against Howell that year, but lost in what was called at the time the “upset of the century.” Miller ran for the U.S. Senate a year later, and lost that, too, to John Warner.
* Mary Sue Terry. Elected attorney general in 1985, she avoided a bruising nomination fight against Lt. Gov. Doug Wilder by forgoing the governor’s race in 1989 and running for an easy re-election bid instead. But when it came time for the Patrick County Democrat to run for governor in 1993, the political mood had changed and she lost to Republican George Allen.
* Don Beyer. Elected lieutenant governor in 1989 with Doug Wilder, the Democratic car dealer from Northern Virginia won re-election in 1993 while Terry ran and lost to Allen in the governor’s race. That made Beyer the de facto Democratic nominee for governor for 1997, but he lost to Republican Jim Gilmore in the famous “no car tax” election.
And now Bolling, who was elected on a split ticket with Democrat Tim Kaine in 2005 at the same time that Republican Bob McDonnell was winning the attorney general’s job. For the 2009 election, McDonnell and Bolling made a famous pact — McDonnell would run for governor that year, Bolling would seek re-election, and McDonnell would back him in 2013. The only problem: Ken Cuccinelli got elected attorney general in 2009, and he wasn’t a party to that pact. Now, Cuccinelli has elbowed Bolling out of the way for the nomination.
True, Bolling’s career may not be over yet, so maybe he will be governor someday, thereby disproving the axiom. And in many of these examples, well, somebody was going to lose somewhere. If Bolling had gone ahead and challenged McDonnell four years ago, one of those two would have lost — so while waiting seems fatal, sometimes going ahead and running can be, too.
Still, waiting for more favorable circumstances has yet to be a willing formula.
– Dwayne Yancey