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 over 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, took the step 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.
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."
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 a political action committee appealing to moderates and independents, he has not endorsed either candidate in November's gubernatorial race.
The endorsement means that the Republican public affairs firm of Marcus & Allen will dissolve. His 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 and won in a rout with the slogan "No Car Tax!" Marcus served as Gilmore's chief of staff during his term from 1998 to 2001.