This year's Virginia governor's race has so far attracted only one serious candidate on each side, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. But the race for the state's No. 2 spot has already drawn a crowd.

Seven Republicans and two Democrats are competing to succeed Republican Bill Bolling as lieutenant governor, a thankless job with low pay and few responsibilities -- but an important stepping stone to a run for governor in 2017 and beyond.

Nine of the last 12 lieutenant governors eventually ran for Virginia's top job. Five of them won, though only two of those victors -- Democrats Tim Kaine and Doug Wilder -- won in the last 20 years.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk and former Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra are running.

For Republicans, candidates include former Del. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson, Del. Scott Lingamfelter of Woodbridge, state Sen. Steve Martin of Chesterfield, 2012 GOP campaign chairman Pete Snyder, Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart and Stafford County Board Chairwoman Susan Stimpson.

But political ambitions aside, at least one man can't understand why so many are interested in the job: the current officeholder.

"Frankly, having held this office for the past eight years, I'm amazed that so many people want to be lieutenant governor," Bolling told The Washington Examiner. "This is a very challenging office, and I just don't think a lot of these candidates understand the limitations of the office."

The lieutenant governor's one duty, beyond succeeding the governor if necessary, is to preside over the Senate and break tie votes. That has become a more influential job now that the Senate is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Bolling had opportunities to flex political muscle in a way few, if any, other lieutenant governors ever got to do, and that, said Snyder, one of the candidates, makes the job more appealing.

"Never before," Snyder said, "has the lieutenant governor position been as important as it is right now."

Bolling planned to make his own run for governor this year but dropped out after supporters of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli shifted the nominating contest from an open primary to a closed convention. The nominating convention that scared away Bolling, however, may be the reason that the lieutenant governor's race is so crowded. Unlike primaries, conventions don't require candidates to wage expensive media campaigns.

"I wouldn't be surprised that the fact that a convention is a less expensive process is attractive [to a lot of candidates]," said Martin, one of those candidates.

But Bolling cautioned that those candidates are in for a rude awakening.

"I've probably been the most visible and consequential lieutenant governor in the history of the state," said Bolling. "But most folks don't know who I am and they don't have the foggiest idea what I've done."