Democrat Mark Herring Takes Narrow Lead In Virginia Attorney General’s Race

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Not entirely unexpectedly, Democratic candidate Mark Herring has taken a very narrow lead in the race to be Virginia’s next Attorney General:

Democratic state Sen. Mark R. Herring took the lead in the extraordinarily tight Virginia attorney general race Monday evening, after he picked up more than 100 previously uncounted votes in Richmond.

Herring had started the day trailing his Republican opponent, state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (Harrisonburg), by a mere 17 votes out of 2.2 million cast. But as jurisdictions across the state continued to scrub their vote counts, the State Board of Elections showed Herring with a 117-vote lead late Monday.

Lawyers from both parties have descended on elections offices in Fairfax County and Richmond. Meanwhile, the campaigns said they were cautiously optimistic but were bracing for a long, drawn-out battle, which appears almost certainly headed to a recount and could seesaw again.

“We’re always excited to see the movement go to our favor, and we’re just going to make sure over the next few weeks and however long this plays out that every single vote counts,” said Ashley Bauman, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “Because I think in the end, we feel confident that our candidate will be on the winning side.”

The razor-thin margin between the two candidates, a small fraction of 1 percent on Monday, has brought new urgency to the normally mundane process of accounting for all votes cast in the statewide elections.

In Richmond, city election officials found more than 200 votes in the attorney general’s race that had gone uncounted on election night, most of them from a single voting machine.

As it stands now, the counting process, which at this point is down to determining the validity of provisional ballots cast by people who for some reason were unable to having their registration confirmed, will be coming to a quick end:

Local jurisdictions have until midnight on Tuesday to report their results to the State Board of Elections. The state then is scheduled to certify the results on Nov. 25. If the margin is less than 1 percent, either candidate can request a recount. If the margin is less than 0.5 percent, the state will pay for the recount.

The Herring-Obenshain contest appears to be one of the closest in state history and could come down to the counting of provisional ballots. The closest, at least in modern times, was in 2005, when then-Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R) beat state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) by just 360 votes in the attorney general’s race.

In Fairfax County, elections officials on Monday were trying to verify the 493 provisional ballots that were cast. Since Friday, 136 voters who voted provisionally have shown up at the government center to make their vote count.

By Monday evening, the Fairfax County electoral board had approved 172 provisional ballots and rejected 138 of them. The remaining 183 were to be verified by Tuesday afternoon. The board agreed to petition a Circuit Court judge to validate another provisional ballot that they say was handled erroneously on Election Day.

Going forward, there are likely to be legal challenges to how some of these provisional ballots were handled and it may end up being the case that some or all of them will ultimately be included in the final total, but that’s not likely to be determined until the recount process, which now seems to be a certainty regardless of which candidate is certified as a the winner, takes place. As I noted yesterday, that can be a lengthy process, and it’s likely that we won’t actually know who won this race until just days before Christmas, if not later. Under the state Constitution, the term of the Attorney General begins at Noon on January 16, 2014, but if the matter is still unresolved at that time then the position will have to be filled on an acting basis by a career attorney in the office.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Pinky says:

    “Because I think in the end, we feel confident that our candidate will be on the winning side.”

    Embrace the dumbness of that statement. On what basis would you be confident? Pols make groundless assertions all the time, but that one really stands out.

  2. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I would love to find out that his nickname is “Red.”

  3. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    The Dems would feel confident because, after authorities have gone over the ballots and procedures with a fine-tooth comb, Herring is in the lead. Small lead, yes, but he’s officially ahead.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    It’s the 21st Century, and this is the best we can do?

  5. Pinky says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy: That’s no reason to feel confident. Happier than if the other guy had a miniscule lead, but not confident. If you have a hundred more votes than the other guy out of 2.2 million, you should feel 50.0045% condifent about the recount. (Well, not exactly, but you get my point.)

  6. stonetools says:


    Not sure who will win yet, but Herring is in the lead and the final 183 ballots are from a heavily Democratic county. My expectation is that after a recount, Herring will win. What’s truly disgraceful is that a right wing Neanderthal like Obenshain is in contention to win the position of chief law enforcement officer of a modern government.

    The GOP nominee for attorney general, state senator Mark Obenshain, like Cuccinelli backed multiple personhood bill in the General Assembly. He also supported successful legislation requiring invasive, transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. In fact, Obenshain introduced legislation that would make it a crime for a woman to fail to report a miscarriage to the police, punishable by a hefty fine and even prison time. A former board member of James Madison University, he wanted to ban emergency contraceptive pills from the student health center – See more at:

  7. Stonetools says:

    The latest is Herring 160, Obenshain 103 of the provisional ballots coming out of Fairfax. Herring is +57 , so I think that means he wins by 174. There will be a recount, though.

  8. Grewgills says:

    All I know is that whoever wins, they have a clear mandate.

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This makes me sentimental for the old days, when Obenshain’s campaign could have called the Democrat “Red Herring” and push him as a Commie stooge. That would have been tremendously amusing.