CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli were assigned to sit next to each other at this week's Republican National Convention, a symbol that even warring Republicans have come together for the sake of the party.
Along with Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Republicans were elected to the state's highest offices together in 2009, but any sense of camaraderie they once shared has all but disappeared. They've been estranged since last December, when Cuccinelli announced he would run for governor next year against Bolling, McDonnell's hand-picked successor.
Cuccinelli and Bolling were in Florida this week to support the Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan. But they were also auditioning before state GOP leaders and grass roots activists who will decide the party's gubernatorial nominee next year.
Cuccinelli, whose conservative activism in office has won him both a following within the state party and national attention, was a draw at convention events, including the PBS NewsHour NewsMaker Breakfast. Bolling, who co-chairs Romney's Virginia campaign, stayed closer to the state's delegation.
For both men, the convention provided a chance to court the party leaders whose support they'll need in what promises to be a bruising campaign.
"Bill's done great on job creation, and Ken's been a stalwart fighting the injustices of this [Obama] administration," said Del. Mark Dudenhefer, a Stafford Republican and convention delegate. "Ken's getting a lot of national exposure for his work, but Bill's been around awhile and is known in the party."
Bolling downplayed any election talk beyond this fall's presidential election.
"This isn't about me," Bolling said. "This is about getting our team revved up. If we get Gov. Romney elected president, then we'll worry about all that other stuff."
But Cuccinelli was open about how he sees his own contest against Bolling shaping up.
"We're going to dominate Northern Virginia at the convention. Honestly, Bill's going to get decimated in Northern Virginia," Cuccinelli said. "We think we'll win every region, but Northern Virginia is my home region. We're going to win it strongly."
Cuccinelli supporters earlier this year orchestrated a takeover of the state Republican Party's central committee, canceled the 2013 primary election and instead voted to hold a nominating convention next year, a move that favors Cuccinelli and his highly organized following.
Cuccinelli's decision to oppose Bolling has roiled the entire state party. Bolling abandoned plans to run for governor in 2009, clearing the way for McDonnell to win the Republican nomination and, ultimately, the governor's office. In exchange, McDonnell vowed to back Bolling as his successor in 2013. But that deal rode on the assumption that Cuccinelli would run for a second term as attorney general.
"There are some people who might say it's [Bolling's] turn, but it's up to the party to pick the best candidate," said Don Plaster, an alternate delegate from Virginia Beach.
Like many of the delegates in Tampa, Plaster wouldn't say who he supported. Those who did, said it was a choice between two good options for the party.
"I'm a Cuccinelli person. He's principled and willing to put his neck on the line," said Jo Ann Thoburn, a delegate from Vienna. "But they're both good guys."