After, in his view, getting elbowed out of the Virginia Republican nomination last November with the switchover from a primary to a convention nomination process, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has been flirting with the idea of running as an independent. Last month, he sent out a missive to test the waters, asking for voters’ opinions on whether he should make the bid, but they’ve apparently decided that his idea of courting more “mainstream” Virginia voters is not a winning proposition.

In announcing his decision to his supporters, Bolling conspicuously declined to endorse either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe, and admitted that he knew he wouldn’t be able to raise the funds necessary to run the necessary superior campaign.

Bolling said he concluded the financial obstacles to an independent campaign might be insurmountable. Just as importantly, he said he was ultimately unwilling to break with the GOP after a long career in Republican politics.

“Based on my discussions with key donors over the past three weeks, I was confident I could raise enough money to run a competitive campaign, but I was not confident I could raise enough money to run a winning campaign,” Bolling said. “Running as an Independent candidate would have required me to sever my longstanding relationship with the Republican Party. While I am very concerned about the current direction of the Republican Party, I still have many dear friends in the Republican Party, people who have been incredibly supportive of me over the years.”

“I wish Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli well as they begin their campaigns. One of these two candidates will have the responsibility of leading Virginia into the future,” Bolling said. “I encourage them to run campaigns that are worthy of Virginia; campaigns that focus on the big issues facing our state and offer a positive vision for the future of Virginia.”

So that leaves the firebrand Tea Partier Cuccinelli versus former DNC chairman McAuliffe, and no doubt the Democratic campaign machinery will now get to relentlessly attacking Cuccinelli in earnest for being an out-of-control, right-wing “extremist.” CNN reminds us that, without Bolling in the race, things are looking fairly even between the two contestants:

The most recent poll in the Virginia contest, conducted last month by Quinnipiac University, indicated that Bolling had the support of 13% of voters, with McAuliffe at 34% and Cuccinelli at 31%. Without Bolling in the contest, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli were deadlocked at 38%.

But that still leaves a major undecided factor up for grabs, and Virginia’s purplish, national-bellwether status means that the race and the commonwealth’s accompanying political mood will get plenty of scrutiny over the coming months.

Update: Says Larry Sabato:

The common reaction to Bolling’s decision is that it’s a win for Cuccinelli, because it’s easy to assume that having a Republican independent in the race would split the conservative vote and deliver the governorship to McAuliffe. But it’s also possible that a Bolling candidacy would have ended up splitting the state’s moderate Democrats, Republicans and independents, allowing Cuccinelli to win a three-way race with a devoted base of conservative supporters. With Bolling out, Cuccinelli is the only contender who can continue Virginia’s remarkable run of electing as governor the candidate whose party doesn’t control the White House, a streak that began in 1977 and has continued for nine elections. (Virginia is the only state where a governor cannot run for reelection.)