A week after Election Day, there may be as many lawyers involved in the race for Virginia attorney general as there are votes separating the two candidates. As of Wednesday, state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) led state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) by 164 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, according to the State Board of Elections, a margin that would make it the closest statewide contest in modern Virginia history. The two candidates are digging in for a battle, and if the post-hanging-chads era has taught us anything, it’s that a race this tight can’t be over yet. The lawyers will make sure of that. Obenshain’s strategy is to concede nothing. Statewide vote totals won’t be certified until Nov. 25, and then the trailing candidate will probably ask for a recount. So on Wednesday, both Obenshain and Herring announced transition teams, and Obenshain said it was premature to discuss legal action or a recount. “I don’t know who is going to move into the attorney general’s office in January, and despite what Mark Herring says, he doesn’t know either,” Obenshain said at a Richmond news conference. “It is important for us to allow the State Board of Elections and our statutory process to work, to make sure every legitimate vote is fairly counted. And I’m committed to seeing that process through.”
Obenshain named four co-chairs for his transition team, and he noted that in the tight 2005 race for attorney general, both then-Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) set up transition teams, even though McDonnell’s lead was larger than Herring’s current edge. (After a recount, McDonnell was declared the winner by 360 votes.) Obenshain added that “it would be foolhardy for someone to bet the whole enchilada on the proposition that they were going to wind up having the coin land on their side. You don’t see Mark Herring resigning his Senate seat, nor do you see me resigning my Senate seat.”
Herring behaved Wednesday as though his victory was inevitable. He named five co-chairs for his transition team, and said David Hallock — a top aide to U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) — would lead the effort. “Transitions are about new beginnings, and this transition will be a return to fundamentals,” said Herring, who then took an apparent swipe at the current attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli II (R). “We will get back to putting ideology and partisanship aside and putting the law and Virginians first.”
Among those watching the contest closely is Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D), who could turn to a Democratic attorney general for help in shaping state policy and dealing with the General Assembly. A Herring win would also give Democrats control of all five statewide offices (including two U.S. Senate seats) for the first time in 44 years — and leave Republicans with a thin bench for future races.