Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced plans on Wednesday to recruit and support "mainstream" Republicans to run for office in yet another move that undercuts his former rival, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Bolling, a one-time Republican candidate for governor, launched the Virginia Mainstream Project to back GOP candidates for the House of Delegates and the Senate who endorse "responsible conservative policy solutions." He said his goal is to change the direction of a state party that in the past year has tilted toward the Tea Party.
"There is a growing need in the Republican Party in Virginia to recruit and elect mainstream conservative candidates to state and local office and promote responsible policy solutions to the most important challenges facing Virginia," Bolling said. "The Virginia Mainstream Project will work to address these issues while encouraging bipartisan cooperation and compromise on the major issues facing the commonwealth."
The new group is a direct challenge to Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, whose decision to run for the top job pushed Bolling out of the race. Bolling has repeatedly criticized Cuccinelli's brand of conservatism as outside the mainstream. His announcement comes just days before the Republican Party will hold a convention to officially anoint Cuccinelli as its nominee.
Bolling will not attend the Richmond gathering, voicing his dissent that the party decided midstream to shift from a primary to a convention that was more favorable to Cuccinelli. The change was orchestrated by Cuccinelli's Tea Party backers after they took over the Republican Party's governing body last year.
Cuccinelli's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
The Virginia Mainstream Project has a three-prong mission: recruit and advise candidates, develop a policy platform and promote ideas on the top issues facing the state. Bolling will shift nearly $500,000 from his existing campaign fund to the new political action committee.
Bolling is singling out candidates he supports. Before the new group officially formed, Bolling gave $10,000 to Del. John Cosgrove, who won a three-way Republican primary last week for a Chesapeake area Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Harry Blevins. In March, Bolling gave $2,500 to Del. Mark Dudenhefer, R-Stafford.
"This is an example of the types of candidates we will be supporting," Bolling spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said of the Cosgrove donation.
The Republican Party is publicly supportive of Bolling's effort. State GOP chairman Pat Mullins said "anything [Bolling] can to do help elect Republican candidates to office is a welcome development."
But it provided an opportunity for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe to once against label Cuccinelli an extreme ideologue.
"While Virginians want a governor focused on mainstream solutions, Cuccinelli has spent his political career trying to reshape the Republican Party into his Tea Party ideal," McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said. "This has meant excluding mainstream Republicans like Bill Bolling."