Orlando, Florida (CNN) - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's apparent decision to run for governor in 2013 sets the stage for a potentially bloody Republican primary fight against Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who has long been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid of his own.
In an unusual twist, though, Virginia's current governor Bob McDonnell will be taking sides in the primary and supporting Bolling.
That's because the two Republicans cut a deal years ago to let McDonnell run for governor in 2009 and give Bolling his chance in 2013 (governors in Virginia are limited to just one four-year term).
In an interview with CNN Thursday, McDonnell said he was hoping Cuccinelli and Bolling could make a similar bargain ahead of 2013 to avoid a primary.
Asked to weigh in on the Cuccinelli news, first reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday, McDonnell shrugged and said: "It's a free country."
"It's a democracy," McDonnell said. "If people feel called or compelled or ambitious to run for another office, God bless 'em."
McDonnell said Cuccinelli has done a "very good job" as the state's top lawyer, but he pledged to keep up his end of the bargain and support Bolling, promising to campaign alongside his deputy on the stump.
"I committed three and a half years ago to support Bill Bolling," he said. "I will strongly support Bill Bolling. He has been a great ally in the administration, he is a good personal friend, he is a good adviser and he is a strong business leader."
Virginia politicos are already casting the mild-mannered Bolling as an underdog.
Cuccinelli has cultivated a national following among movement conservatives and tea party activists thanks to his crusades against President Obama's health care law and his conservative positions on gay rights and global warming.
McDonnell won his 2009 race by talking almost exclusively about job creation and the economy.
So he tip-toed around the question of whether Cuccinelli's outspoken conservatism might turn off the state's crucial independent voters.
He said he expects the eventual Republican nominee to keep his focus on the economy.
"I would guess that whoever runs for governor would focus on the things they know the independent voters will be concerned about," he said. "The key issue is what are you focused on and are you addressing the things that people really care about."