As a rule, Virginia’s statewide elections follow a fairly predictable pattern. The first thing you need to realize is this: Almost everybody wants to be governor. Maybe not this year, but eventually. Which means that whoever is running for lieutenant governor or attorney general invariably has one eye on the big chair (while the governor, more often than not, is gazing longingly toward the Potomac).
This dynamic is reinforced by Virginia’s one-term gubernatorial limit, which tends to result in a complete Capitol Square shake-up every four years, even though the LG and AG can theoretically stick around as long as voters will have them. (It should be noted that current Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling has served two terms, but only because he made a deal with Bob McDonnell to postpone his executive ambitions until 2013).
The other peculiarity of the Old Dominion’s three statewide offices is that they are all elected independently, so that it’s not uncommon for Virginia’s governor and lieutenant governor to be from opposing parties. Now, when the LG and AG are from different parties, they usually end up facing each other in the governor’s race. But when they share party affiliation, things can get a little tricky.
Which brings us to the current cockamamie situation. As regular readers well know, Bill Bolling definitely wanted to be governor, but was outmaneuvered by current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is now running unopposed for the Republican nomination (while also, in a break with recent tradition, continuing to perform his duties as AG).
And so, with Bolling retiring (after contemplating, then rejecting an independent bid for governor) and the Cooch facing Democrat Terry McAuliffe for the top slot, Richmond’s undercard races are as open as they’ve ever been.
For both Democrats and Republicans, the lieutenant governorship is the more important of the two positions. As the tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided senate, the LG could very well hold the key to an entire legislative agenda (especially for the elephants, who already have solid control over the House of Delegates). This fact explains why there are no fewer than seven Republicans currently in the race, running the gamut from relative moderates (former state senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis) to the party’s rightmost fringe (Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman and noted xenophobe Corey Stewart). The Democrats, on the other hand, currently have only two declared candidates: America’s first “Chief Technology Officer” (no, seriously) Aneesh Chopra and state Senator Ralph Northam.
In the race to replace the Cooch, the field is much smaller, with just two Republicans (Delegate Rob Bell and state Senator Mark Obenshain) and two Dems (state Senator Mark Herring and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Fairfax) currently running.
At this early date, we cannot begin to guess who will eventually triumph in these races, but we can tell you one thing: Since Virginia’s GOP has opted for a nominating convention over a primary, chances are the Republican slate will be the most conservative in recent memory. And thus, should Ken Cuccinelli actually become governor (an unlikely event, admittedly), he would almost certainly preside over a state government that would make the McDonnell administration look like the Conch Republic.
Don’t forget to vote!