RICHMOND, Va. — With 164 votes separating them in the race for attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain dug in Wednesday, each announcing transition teams.
Trailing, Obenshain said he would not consider conceding to Herring, a fellow member of the Virginia Senate, until after the State Board of Elections certified the Virginia-wide vote on Nov. 25. Herring declared himself the victor Tuesday night after Fairfax County officials counted provisional ballots, adding to his narrow lead.
But Obenshain called the move premature with a fraction of a percentage point separating the two after 2.2 million ballots were cast in the race.
“I’m not thumping my chest telling you that I have all the confidence in the world that the coin is going to land on my side,” Obenshain said at a news conference. “I’m telling you anyone would be a fool to make that bet.”
For his part, Herring looked ahead, announcing a transition team that included former first lady Anne Holton. She is the wife of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and a former domestic relations and juvenile court judge. Two commonwealth attorneys were also named.
“Transitions are about new beginnings, and this transition will be a return to fundamentals,” Herring said in a statement announcing his team. “We will get back to putting ideology and partisanship aside, and putting the law and Virginians first.”
The reference was apparently to the man he hopes to succeed, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who lost in his Republican bid for governor. Cuccinelli has been an activist attorney general, unsuccessfully taking on the nation’s health care law, among other conservative causes.
Obenshain, who represents the Harrisonburg area, announced a transition team that includes a former attorney general, Jerry Kilgore, and a former federal prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general under Cuccinelli, Chuck James.
While Obenshain didn’t claim the state certification of votes would turn the election in his favor, he said he wanted to “respect the process” and wait until the tally was completed.
“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,” Herring said. “It is important for us to allow the State Board of Elections to work and make sure every legitimate vote is counted.”
Obenshain led on election night, but Herring has been adding to his total since then. He picked up votes in a Richmond canvas and Fairfax County absentees that hadn’t been counted because of tabulation errors added 2,000 votes to his column over the weekend. He also widened his lead Tuesday night when Fairfax County officials tallied provisional votes. Those are ballots that were not counted on Election Day because a voter either lacked a proper identification or went to the wrong precinct.
Obenshain said he would not decide whether to seek a recount until after the state certifies the vote. While a recount has never reversed a statewide election contest, Obenshain pointed to legislation in 2008 that broadened the number of ballots that are checked in a recount.
“This is no man’s land,” he said. “Nobody’s gone through this process in Virginia. I think it’s anybody’s guess as to how this race is going to be determined.”
Lauren Harmon, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said after the Obenshain news conference that she was confident that Herring would emerge the victor.
“We believe once all the votes are counted, we’re going to win and we’re going to have Attorney General Herring,” she said of the Loudoun County Democrat.
Asked about Obenshain naming a transition team, she added, “We think we’re going to win but if he wants to be ready we’re certainly not going to naysay him.”
Virginia does not provide for an automatic recount. If the margin remains at less than one-half of one full percentage point between the candidates, the cost of a recount would be paid by taxpayers. If the margin was above that but below 1 percent, the candidate seeking the recount would pay for the recount.
If Herring prevails, it would be the first Democratic sweep of the top of the Virginia ticket in nearly a quarter century. Terry McAuliffe was elected governor and Ralph Northam lieutenant governor. Both are Democrats.
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