RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Boyd Marcus, a veteran Republican political consultant whose client list has included U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former Gov. Jim Gilmore, is endorsing Democrat Terry R. McAuliffe and advising his campaign against GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia's neck-and-neck race for governor.
The announcement by McAuliffe's campaign, confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday in a phone interview with Marcus, rocked Virginia politics and exposed the clearest sign to date of bad blood within the GOP between its establishment and the tea party conservatives who comprise Cuccinelli's ardent army and control the state Republican Party machinery.
Marcus, who most recently guided the aborted gubernatorial campaign of Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, became a paid adviser to McAuliffe knowing it would sever many longtime GOP ties for him. But he felt it necessary.
"I was looking at the candidates, and I saw Terry McAuliffe as the guy who will work with everybody to get things done," Marcus told the AP in a telephone interview.
Bolling lost out on his longtime desire to be governor after pro-Cuccinelli conservatives won a majority of seats on the Republican Party of Virginia's governing central committee and last summer scuttled plans for a gubernatorial primary in favor of a statewide convention dominated by the party's right.
Bolling withdrew from the race last fall, and while he has voiced misgivings about Cuccinelli and this year established a political action committee appealing to moderates and independents, he has not endorsed either candidate in November's gubernatorial race. Marcus's son, Randy Marcus, serves as Bolling's chief aide.
In a statement announcing the endorsement, McAuliffe's campaign quotes Marcus as saying, "I've never before supported any Democrat, but this election Terry is the clear choice for mainstream conservatives."
A one-paragraph statement Cuccinelli's campaign issued in response called McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and close friend and fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, a "failed job creator." But it in no way addressed Marcus and his new role.
Democrats were giddy at Marcus' defection. A Democratic National Committee noted the news in a blast email, gloating that it was "just the latest example of dysfunction and infighting within the GOP, and the Civil War that is pulling the party apart."
Marcus's defection struck even the GOP's establishment figures as a breathtaking apostasy, an action tantamount to Marcus forever forsaking the party.
"How can you ever go back?" former Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, a moderate Republican, said in a telephone interview. "Basically, it's Boyd's move to hang it up. Maybe this is his ultimate move."
Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins was furious over what he viewed as a betrayal.
"...Boyd Marcus has decided to align himself with the man who sold the Lincoln Bedroom for campaign donations," Mullins said of McAuliffe's fundraising efforts at the DNC under the Clintons. "Consultants aren't immune to the economic downturns, and in the Obama economy people often have to take whatever jobs they can find."
The endorsement dissolves the Richmond-based Republican politics and public affairs firm of Marcus & Allen that has served GOP candidates in states across the country. Partner Ray Allen said he's buying Marcus's shares of their 20-year-old business, which was the home base for Cantor's political campaigns. Allen will continue working with Cantor.
Cantor has endorsed Cuccinelli and is holding a fundraising reception for him Thursday in Richmond.
"Boyd Marcus and I have been friends for nearly 30 years and business partners for 20. Boyd is doing what he believes is best for himself and his family. I am taking a different direction," Allen said in an email statement announcing the split. "We will remain friends even though we will no longer be business associates. "
Marcus was the architect behind the 1997 campaign in which Gilmore harnessed public hatred for the personal property tax Virginia localities assess on privately owned cars and pickup trucks, allowing the Republican to win in a rout behind the slogan "No Car Tax!"
Marcus served as the governor's chief of staff during Gilmore's term from 1998 to 2001. He earned the nickname "the Prince of Darkness" among political adversaries — and even a few allies — who grudgingly acknowledged his ability to almost invisibly achieve political or policy objectives.