RICHMOND, Va. — Four years ago, Democrat Mark Herring squeaked by Republican Mark Obenshain by just 165 votes to win the race for Virginia attorney general. But on Nov.7, Herring cruised to re-election against GOP nominee John Adams, winning by more than 176,000 votes while flipping usually conservative Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
During his first term, Herring won praise from progressives and criticism from conservatives for refusing to defend Virginia’s ban against same-sex marriage, challenging President Donald Trump’s travel ban against people from certain Muslim countries and other controversial positions. Herring’s supporters see his re-election as a vindication of progressive politics.
“You have said loud and clear that your attorney general should always be on the side of the people,” Herring said as he accepted his second term in an election-night speech at George Mason University. “I am so honored that you have entrusted me to be your attorney general for another four years.”
According to canvassed results released last week by the State Board of Elections, compared with 2013, Herring increased his percentage of the vote in 58 localities. Seven of the localities he previously lost to Obenshain, he won against Adams. They were Chesapeake, Danville, Montgomery County, Radford, Staunton, Virginia Beach and Winchester.
Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, the most populous of those localities, especially stand out: They had voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
After Republicans won the White House and retained their majority in Congress in 2016, many Democrats saw Virginia’s statewide elections as a bellwether to signal a liberal shift in politics.
Former President Barack Obama sounded a wake-up call for Democrats on Oct. 19 in Richmond at a campaign rally for the party’s ticket, which included gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam and Justin Fairfax, the nominee for lieutenant governor.
“During presidential elections, everybody gets all excited, and then when it’s an off-year election, suddenly everybody goes, ‘What, there’s an election going on?’ And so as a consequence, folks wake up and they’re surprised. ‘How come we can’t get things through Congress? How come we can’t get things through the statehouse?’
“Because you slept through the election. But the stakes now don’t allow you to sleep. Because it’s going to come down to how bad you want it.”
It appears many people were energized, as the voter turnout in the election was higher than in Virginia’s last gubernatorial election. About 47 percent of voters cast ballots on Nov. 7 – up from 43 percent in November 2013.
Herring, who opposed the Trump administration’s travel bans, seized a moment to remind his constituents that they had “rejected the politics of fear and division.”
“The people of Virginia have sent an unmistakable message that will be heard across this nation and around the world, and across the river to the man in the White House,” Herring said.
By Charlotte Rene Woods
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.