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Posted at 4:22 PM ET, 12/13/2010

The future of Ken Cuccinelli

By Chris Cillizza

Ken Cuccinelli's role in the health care repeal effort makes him a conservative hero in Virginia. AP Photo

The decision today by a federal judge in Virginia that a provision of President Obama's health care law is unconstitutional thrusts state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli into the national spotlight.

Cuccinelli, who was elected to his current post in 2009, had brought the suit -- insisting that requiring people to purchase insurance violated a Virginia statute.

The case, which now seems almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court, will cast Cuccinelli -- already a conservative darling -- as the face of the attempts to repeal the president's signature policy achievement of his first two years in office.

And, that elevation means that Cuccinelli can almost certainly have the Republican nomination for any statewide office he likes in Virginia. "He is hero on Fox [News Channel] and with Virginia Republicans," said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R).

(For more on Cuccinelli, make sure to read David Montgomery's profile, which ran in the Post magazine in August.)

But, what office does Cuccinelli want?

It depends on who you ask.

Those close to Cuccinelli insist he has no grand plan for his political future and remains committed to making good on a campaign promise to serve out his term as the state's top cop.

Unlike the governorship, which has a single term limit, the other statewide offices in Virginia are not bound by term limits so Cuccinelli could stay on as state Attorney General for the foreseeable future.

But, Cuccinelli is clearly interested in capitalizing on the national profile afforded him by the health care fight. (One example: Web ads running atop the Drudge Report today touting Cuccinelli as having "succeeded in overturning the individual mandate".)

Assuming Cuccinelli does have an eye on moving up the political ladder -- and we assume all politicians do -- there are two obvious options: Senate in 2012 or governor in 2013.

A Senate race seems the less likely of the two choices. Former Sen. George Allen (R) is all-but-in the race and Cuccinelli has never expressed any particular interest in serving in the world's greatest deliberative body.

(A Clarus Research poll out today shows that Cuccinelli would trail Democratic Sen. Jim Webb by eleven points in a 2012 general election matchup -- evidence that Cuccinelli still isn't that well known a presence statewide in Virginia and could struggle with Democrats and Independents due to his conservative positioning.)

A governor's race in 2013 would seem to be Cuccinelli's preferred path. The seat will be open as Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is term limited. While Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) is widely expected to run, there's few people not on the Bolling payroll who believe he could beat Cuccinelli in an intraparty fight.

(Sidebar: From a political junkie's perspective a 2013 general election race between Cuccinelli and 2009 candidate and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe would be epic.)

The x-factor in all predictions about Cuccinelli's political career is his family. He has seven -- yes, seven! -- children, ranging in age from one to 14.

Given the meteoric rise of Cuccinelli in conservative circles, he holds his political future in his hands -- an enviable postion.

Timing is everything in politics, however, so if Cuccinelli does pass on the chance to run for Senate or governor over the next few years it's not clear whether the window of opportunity would remain open for him in future elections.

By Chris Cillizza  | December 13, 2010; 4:22 PM ET
Categories:  Health Care  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: Tax cut deal clears hurdle in Senate; Virginia judge strikes down health care bill's 'individual mandate'; reapportionment numbers due out on Dec. 21

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