Virginia’s Tea Party True Believer Aims Higher

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Republican sources say Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s crusading attorney general, is “highly likely” to announce a run for governor in 2013, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Washington Post report. A bid could set up an interesting contested Republican primary against the state’s lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, who is expected to run to replace the state’s popular Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell. 

The reports aren’t a surprise. In the commonwealth, where the chief executive can’t serve consecutive terms, the AG’s perch is a way station to the governor’s mansion, and Cuccinelli’s high profile and strong conservative support have spurred frequent rumors that he’s angling for a higher office run. Much of the speculation, however, has centered around a challenge to Democratic Senator Mark Warner in 2014. Cuccinelli told the Post in August that he was considering a Senate run.

As I wrote in a profile last year, Cuccinelli is a true believer — a Tea Party hero and conservative culture warrior who leveraged his role at the nexus of law and politics to take the lead in the legal/political fight against the Obama health-care law’s individual mandate. He is smart and aggressive, which is one of the reasons why Democrats consider him dangerous. And despite staking out divisive positions on hot-button social issues, Cuccinelli registers reasonably well with moderates. In an August survey conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, Cuccinelli bested Bolling in a hypothetical matchup, 45% to 21% — in part because he’s far better known. A hard-fought GOP primary would be a race to watch closely.