There is something more going on here as we get ready for this battle royal between Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli. Its not just a clash between ambitious politicians, one who's been the good soldier and one who has always walked to the beat of his own drum. What is going on here is a battle between two regions of this state for power.
Its a battle between Richmond and Northern Virginia.
The agendas of business interests, local governments, and even the citizens themselves of Richmond and Northern Virginia are different. Richmond is old Virginia. Its business interests are defined by old bankers, law firms, and tobacco companies that have been bankrolling Virginia elections since forever. Northern Virginia is defined by developers, contractors, dot.coms, environmentalists, public servants that come from PTAs and HOAs and where education and transportation and the biggest issues. And when you look and the needs of both regions of the state, then look at the relative small size of the state budget (compared to other states), there isn't enough money for both of them.
There's also an identity rivalry. Richmond is old Virginia, NOVA is new Virginia. Richmond is old money and old families and political dynasties. NOVA is new money, new residents, folks brought here by government jobs or internet/telecom companies. Bankers and tobacco companies versus government workers, government contractors, and dot.com money. Richmond use to be the economic engine of the state, Northern Virginia is the new one. In Richmond, the General Assembly is where ambitious politicians want to get too. In Northern Virginia, real power is in county government where budgets get well into the millions per county. Richmond powers like Eric Cantor and Bill Bolling came out of the Assembly. NOVA powers like Tom Davis and Gerry Connolly came out of county government. In Northern Virginia, running for state delegate or to the state central committee is not something that is seen/perceived as important as county supervisor or county chairman. Northern Virginians believe in the power of local elected office while Richmond understands as much power is in the state and local committees as in elected office.
So with that backdrop, this brings me to where we are with Ken Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling. In some ways, they confound their regions. Bolling got his start in county government, Cuccinelli in the legislature. Yet when you look deeper, they are perfect representatives of their region. Bolling has played the good soldier for years in Richmond circles, both as a senator and lieutenant governor. Despite Ken's deep personal conservatism, his record has been very much pro-Northern Virginia. He spoke passionately about the need to change the funding formula for roads, for instance. Ken always knew where he came from and what he had to do to keep going forward. And if you look through the recent history of GOP nomination contests, you see several battles between Richmond and NOVA. But more importantly, we need to look at one man: ex-Rep. Tom Davis.
From what I know and have heard, all Tom Davis ever wanted to be was a United States Senator. As a congressman he became the representation of Northern Virginia - preppy, moderate, upscale - from the perspective of an old bull conservative from Richmond. He wasn't seen as a real "Virginian," so to speak. But he was (and still is) an effective tactician that built a true machine up here that elected state legislators and other local officials over and over throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Dave Albo, Jay O'Brien, Jeannemarie Devolites, Tim Hugo, Pat Herrity, and even Keith Fimian all have ties to Tom Davis in their careers. Davis reached his height in 2004 when his excellent stewardship of House Republicans in the federal elections won him praise across the country. I think, he began to bore with the House and started to set his sights on his dream, a US Senate seat. What else was there to do? He had helped elect scores of Republicans both locally and nationally and was rewarded with a powerful committee chairmanship. He was certainly close to Sen. John Warner, another maverick non-Richmond interloper who took a seat that was never meant for him, and had his support. Tom WAS Northern Virginia, and the Tysons business crowd led by developers like Til Hazel behind him, he started spreading the wealth. I was not apart of this, but during my time volunteering for both Jeannemarie Davis and later in early 2008 for his Senate bid, I began to see from general conversations with his staff that serious inroads were being made in Southwest and in Hampton Roads. Tom had developed a close alliance with Bob McDonnell (he was an old friend of Jeannemarie's in the House of Delegates), a mutual partnership to help the attorney general become the GOP nominee for governor and was suppose to help Davis win the US Senate nomination. Money was being spent and friends were being made. Anne Crockett-Stark became a favorite in TomWorld down in Southwest. In the mid-1990s, Tom was despised down state. A story was told to me that during one fight Jeannemarie wanted to make a speech endorsing John Hager, a rare-Richmond ally of Tom, and I can't remember the year but she decided not to do it because they didn't want it made public that Tom stood with him. But his success as a politician, his access to campaign money, and voter-rich base was a very appealing argument heading into a very bad looking year in 2008 - especially with Mark Warner running. He flexed some downstate muscle by lobbying hard to get the HB3202 2007 transportation bill passed . . . with McDonnell's legal opinion that ruled regional transportation authorities, unelected, could levy taxes. He made sense, and sense was being made to a lot of Republicans in Southwest and Hampton Roads. More importantly, he was starting to flex some muscle in Richmond.
So what happened? Richmond happened, and its an ending that is a perfect example of the dynamic between these two regions. Jim Gilmore, just as ambitious as Tom with just as much backing but from Richmond, is the child of the old Tom Bliley Republican machine that has created a generation (or more) of Republican officials in Richmond and its surrounded counties. Gilmore is a tough guy and an even tougher campaigner. He's won two statewide races he wasn't suppose to. He presided over the final takeover of General Assembly by the GOP. And Jim Gilmore wanted a convention, while Tom Davis wanted a primary. And with good reason . . . Tom's dynamic was strong on paper. Hampton, NOVA, and Southwest? Gilmore couldn't beat that. But Tom made a blunder that shouldn't be surprising, because he tried play inside the party. Remember how I said state politics the state and county committees was the interest of Richmond, while NOVA folks liked honest, transparent, county government? Well, the decision was made by the state central committee. And the vote was at Mills Godwin High School in Short Pump. I know this because I was there. I was a proxy vote, and I cast it for a primary. I remember it well because I got lost and was late, and Tom's people were calling me wondering where I was.
The mistake Tom made was trusting the support he was told privately by pushing for a private ballot. Tom fell for the line that downstate folks would have to "hide" their support of a NOVA candidate, that they shouldn't be made to embarrass themselves to their conservative neighbors. But it had the exact opposite effect . . . it allowed all those people who told Tom they would support him to vote for a convention and nobody would be the wiser. A Richmond bull would have shoved that promise down their throats and hold them to it publicly. It was in Richmond and it was backdoor, old school politics that he wasn't ready for because he didn't know anything about it. The old way won out because of two reasons. First, Tom didn't know how to play by their own rules. Second, downstate supporters could be turned against him by insisting he was a RINO (which he kind of is, but his record is much better than most conservatives realize). With the Gilmore people leaning on you, telling you he's a RINO and what might happen to you if you voted for a RINO . . . you can see why this happened. Tom's folks shrugged it off and said they would fight at the convention . . . but he had been beaten and had no fight left. After a no-name candidate took 45% against him in 2006 (and now in the minority in Congress with no chairmanship) and his wife getting drubbed by ten points in 2007, there was no fight left in him. It was over. Richmond had beaten back Northern Virginia. Tom retired to work for Deloitte.
This story is worth telling because of what happened at that 2008 convention. It was a small convention, held at the convention center in Richmond and not the Coliseum (I was there, too). Two Northern Virginia conservatives stepped forward, Jeff Frederick and Bob Marshall, to take on two Richmond bulls in state Chairman John Hager and Jim Gilmore. Frederick rode his youth and vigor to victory. While Gilmore defeated Marshall, it was razor-close, and looking back it was so close I'm not willing to say there wasn't some chicanery involved by "Richmond." But the real story was why it was so close. Marshall, long considered a lone wolf in the Assembly who always underperformed in his district, got the full-throttled support of Tom Davis. It was blatant, obvious, and tactical. I can't think of two politicians more different in every way than Tom Davis and Bob Marshall. But see, this is where we see today's story come into focus. Its not about politics, its about power and preeminence. Guys like Tom and the business community up here don't really care about conservative versus liberal, they aren't wired that way. Its a mistake to think otherwise. They are about Northern Virginia and turning it into the most powerful part of the state. And its something that is resented on a bi-partisan level downstate. You see it with Democrats today, many downstate old-school Democrats chafing under the constant leadership and will of the large Northern Virginia delegation. That is why Tom Davis supported Bob Marshall. Which brings us to today.
You want to know why Bill Bolling is so outraged at Ken Cuccinelli? Because Ken represents the biggest threat to the power of Richmond in this state it's ever seen. This group of business interests dates back to the fall of the Byrdites where the mish/mash of business supporters of the old Byrd clan went back and forth between the GOP (in the 70s) and back to the Dems (in the 80s) and have constantly held serious pull inside the GOP since the 1990s. Ken, however, is charismatic and made a national name for himself without anyone's help or patronage. He never was able to be controlled in the senate, and he cannot be pushed aside as a "moderate" someone downstate conservatives would be embarrassed to support. Bolling has done things the Richmond way. He's paid his dues, worked hard, been loyal, said and done the right things, and waited his turn. Just like all of them. Steady if unspectacular. He's done everything his experience and political education told him needs to be done to be the nominee in the old dynamic. There isn't much of a difference in politics between the two, which is a much bigger problem for Bolling. Ken can't be brushed aside like Davis was by the claim he's some wishy-washy Fairfax moderate RINO. That card is gone, and Bob Marshall proved in 2008 how strong a conservative with a NOVA base can be in a primary, and Ken only confirmed that in 2009 with his drubbing that he laid on two other candidates.
Ken is like Northern Virginia because he doesn't play by the old rules, he doesn't care about who's turn it is, he doesn't care about the old way of doing things. Its exactly what Tom was trying to do, just now Ken is doing it under a politically conservative banner much more acceptable to the rest of the state. Those Hampton and Southwest conservatives won't believe he's a RINO. You want to know why Tom publicly endorsed Jeff Frederick for state senate? There it is. Frederick would have been just as anti-Richmond as Ken was, and as Tom was. Ken represents everything that worries the old barons of the state, who's ranks Bolling has served honorably. But he has none of the vulnerabilities or exaggerated notions of what downstate conservatives think of NOVA Republicans. We saw some signs of what could happen when Marshall nearly took down Gilmore in 2008. Ken has understood he's never been entirely embraced by Richmond . . . he was a key backer behind the marriage amendment in 2006 that could have been George Allen's last lifeline if he had embraced it, and in fact much of the establishment did not embrace it. That was an outside Richmond movement, because Richmond's sole focus was getting George Allen reelected. He made a habit of supporting challengers to incumbent colleague senators while in the state senate. Since being elected AG, his support of Keith Fimian and Tom Garrett, against the greater powers at play, proved decisive. He has a good political aetenna. He doesn't get into internal fights that he has no part of. Fimian was a backer in '09 while Herrity was conspicuous as the lone Fairfax elected official who didn't endorse Ken's AG run. Garrett had been the only (to my knowledge) commonwealth's attorney that supported him. He fought for them because they had fought for him. It's more personal, its not about who's turn it is. Bolling has caused none of those waves, constantly being the good soldier behind the home team.
So when people are trying and figure out what is going to be on the line if these goes all the way to June 2013, this is what is at stake. Richmond's dominance of the state, already finished in the Democratic Party, could be finished in the Republican Party as well in Virginia. When bloggers and pundits try to frame this about crazy versus reasonable, they are plum wrong and people who operate under those assumptions just have no idea what is REALLY going in within the state GOP. And naturally, most of those pundits will come from Northern Virginia because, to this day, so many Republicans up here still fail to learn what Tom Davis never knew . . . they never truly learned what the rest of the state is like, what makes Republicans tick, and who are the real powers.
Ken will be fought against and fought hard because if he is elected governor, he will be the very first Republican elected without the support and/or blessings of the Richmond power structure. This could be the last stand of the old guard dominating the state party.
To them, its a very dangerous thing.