ARLINGTON, Va. -- As Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling approaches his own March 14th deadline for making a decision about whether to enter the 2013 gubernatorial race as an independent, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is doing everything he can to stay on Bolling's good side.
McAuliffe, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, met with reporters Tuesday to discuss the transportation bill that passed through the Virginia legislature this past weekend, singling out three Republicans for praise: Bolling, Gov. Bob McDonnell and state House Speaker Bill Howell.
He added that he contacted the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices during the run-up to the General Assembly's vote to eliminate the state's gas tax but raise several other taxes, including the state sales tax, in order to fund highway and mass transit projects throughout the commonwealth.
And just because the bill passed though doesn't mean McAuliffe and Bolling are done chatting.
"We traded calls last night, and hopefully we're going to speak today," said McAuliffe, later adding, "Bill Bolling and I will continue to talk" no matter what he decides to do next month.
Ever since Bolling dropped out of the GOP primary last year after determining he could not win his party's nomination at the May state party convention, he and McAuliffe have almost sounded like surrogates for one another, uniting against a common foe in Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the default Republican gubernatorial nominee.
On Monday, Bolling spoke to students at U-Va. professor Larry Sabato's famed political class and could have taken a swing at the Democrat. Instead, he just said McAuliffe is challenged by having low name identification and being perceived as an outsider to Virginia politics, according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress.
"On the other hand, you've got Mr. Cuccinelli," Bolling continued. "His problem is that people do know him. I think his challenge is that he has to redefine himself if he's going to have any realistic chance of reaching a more moderate, mainstream voter."
Bolling also described himself as a "mainstream conservative guy," while McAuliffe on a daily basis dings Cuccinelli for being outside of the "mainstream."
"Most of what I've seen Mr. McAuliffe do has been directed toward running a more mainstream campaign. Everything that Mr. Cuccinelli's done would suggest to me that he intends to just double down on the far-right, conservative ideology," Bolling told Politico in a separate interview Monday.
"There's no room in their party for someone like Bill Bolling," said McAuliffe on Tuesday.
Regarding transportation, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are approaching the issue from different political angles. McAuliffe is banking on the idea that commuters in heavily congested Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads will see the billions of dollars are now set to be spent on projects throughout the commonwealth, even though he doesn't like parts of the bill that he would like to "tweak" later, such as the percentage of General Fund money dedicated to transportation.
Cuccinelli, however, is counting on unifying his base around an anti-tax message with the hopes that they'll turn out in greater numbers than the Democrats will for McAuliffe.
On Tuesday, three Democratic state lawmakers joined McAuliffe at the Arlington press event: state Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, state Del. Alfonso Lopez, and state Sen. Janet Howell, the lone Democratic state senator who sat on the conference committee that put together the final transportation bill.
Howell appeared to play right into Cuccinelli's hand when it came to promoting his own message. "Ken Cuccinelli was actively calling legislators and expressing his opposition to any tax increase," said Howell as she criticized Cuccinelli for opposing the transportation plan.
Speaking about Cuccinelli's record as a state senator, Howell added that Cuccinelli voted "no and no and no again. ... He never negotiated."
That sort of message should resonate well with the Republican base at a time when conservatives, ranging from RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, are livid at McDonnell over the tax increases in the bill. For his part, McDonnell reaffirmed his support of Cuccinelli on MSNBC Tuesday morning, despite the break on transportation.
During the press conference, Saslaw mentioned Cuccinelli's record of supporting bills that would leave "undocumented" workers unprotected if they were hurt on the job or another bill that would have barred a hospital "from treating undocumented people."
McAuliffe also hit Cuccinelli for promoting a "social ideological agenda" instead of focusing on job growth.
However, that comes at a time when McAuliffe's campaign accepted an in-kind contribution from Planned Parenthood for a website, authorized by McAuliffe's campaign, called KeepKenOut.org.
Among other criticisms, the site states that Cuccinelli is "the first line of attack against women's health and rights"
When asked about the site and how he planned to use social issues in the campaign, McAuliffe replied that he wants to be inclusive as governor.
"I'm not using social issues to divide people, and I think that's the difference between the Attorney General and myself," said McAuliffe.