It has been a good turn of luck for me that since I have been blogging (2007) I have lived in close enough proximity to Ken Cuccinelli to watch fairly closely his rise in Virginia Republican politics and what it means for conservatives moving forward.
The main lesson I have taken from this is if you want to be a principled conservative without compromise, you need to work twice as hard as the next guy. The comparison between Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling is especially apt when understanding how Ken get to this point despite every level of "establishment" (whatever that means) being against him in his career. When he first ran for the state senate in 2002, the Fairfax Republican establishment rallied around Mike Thompson because he had paid his dues as a party activists and had all of the support of such people. Ken won. When Cuccinelli was in the State Senate he had no problems endorsing challengers to his GOP colleagues, constantly worked on issues important to him all the while alienating Richmond leaders. When he ran for AG, it was open knowledge that McDonnell and Bolling did not want him on the ticket and recruited John Brownlee to stop him. He won anyways. Democratic candidate Steve Shannon was supposed to be the young star to stop Ken, a law-and-order prosecutor who ran for AG on essentially the same platform as Bob McDonnell four years before, Ken mauled him in debates and at the polls.
But all the while, other things were going on. To those who have been paying attention, Cuccinelli has been quietly building a political organization since his career began. Not only in his district, where I can attest as a volunteer in 2007 that their lists and intel was much stronger and more accurate and organzied than that of the other GOP candidates in NoVA, but statewide as well. Starting in 2002, Ken was running out of his house the opposition to Gov. Mark Warner's statewide tax referendum (Ken won that one), creating key contacts with conservative and anti-tax advocates across the state. Four years later, as George Allen was blowing his Senate seat, Ken Cuccinelli was quietly crossing the state on behalf of the Marshall-Newman Marriage Amendment, creating contacts and organizing with churches and social conservative groups across the state. Two years after that, Cuccinelli became the lead surrogate for Bob Marshall's upstart Senate campaign against Jim Gilmore heading into the 2008 GOP convention. By being a convention, Cuccinelli went around the state not just campaigning; but going to small GOP unit committees, women's clubs, YR and CR groups. You know, the kind of activists that would go to a convention.
So by 2009 Ken had spent nearly the entire decade cultivating social conservatives, anti-tax advocates, and unit committees across the commonwealth. It was hard work, a grind that you have to embrace and do when nobody is looking. Compared to Bill Bolling, who has had nearly 8 years of a job that constitutionally requires almost nothing, its easy to see why Ken has triumphed. Bolling chose to do none of this. Early in his first term, Bolling came up with doing an innovative campaign called the 100 Ideas for Virginia and he was going to go all over the state holding idea-raisers and workshops to come up with a citizen-based platform for governor in 2009. I was on-board, and even attended one in Richmond. He got the idea from a Florida House Speaker named Marco Rubio, for whom one of Bolling's staffers had worked for. The "campaign," if you will, never took off. Bolling never followed through with this really great idea, he didn't embrace the grind. Ken embraced the grind and Bill did not. Bill decided to stand down and put his future in the hands of others, namely Bob McDonnell and Mitt Romney. Ken also has a knack for picking the right fights but having several unconventional bullet points on his resume that confound the left (and the moderates) like his work on mental health, the trigger-man law, and working on exonerating wrong convicted prisoners. Bolling, on the other hand, played it safe by supporting the work of others.
The lessons I have outlined here are that for true conservatives to rise, they need to embrace a long term strategy of organizing and cultivation of activists. Its a grind, like I said. You need to embrace the grind. Bolling tried to do it the easy way, the old way in Virginia that used to work all the time. Stand down and wait your turn was the way things have worked in Virginia since Harry Byrd. Those days are over, and nobody seemed to tell Bill. By trying to go the easy route, he had built up no constituency. His constituency was built on the shallow "he's a good guy," or "I feel bad for him," That is no what you want people to think if you want to be taken seriously as a political force. For true constitutional conservatives to emerge as a majority in Virginia and in RPV, we need to follow Ken's blazed trail of embracing the grind of organizing. The reason Bolling had to stand down is because all the work of the last ten years Ken has done has created an army of supporters, activists, and admirers that Bolling could not even begin to match. The convention just sealed the deal, he would have lost a primary too.
Cuccinelli's challenge now is he needs to activate that network he has built and translate it into a true statewide machine.
The lesson of Ken Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling? Embrace the grind and never accept a deal with another politician that gives them everything and makes you wait.