In March 2013, Governing magazine rated Virginia's open attorney general seat as "vulnerable" heading into the 2013-2014 elections because incumbent Republican Ken Cuccinelli was not running for re-election.
The race to replace Cuccinelli began at the primary nomination stage; both Republican convention and Democratic election candidates drew primary contests. On May 18, two "strong fiscal and social conservatives" -- state Sen. Mark Obenshain and state Rep. Rob Bell -- competed for delegate votes at the Republican Party of Virginia's closed nominating convention, which Obenshain won. The nominee's late father, GOP politician Richard Obenshain, died in a plane crash during his 1978 campaign for U.S. Senate. Obenshain faced state Sen. Mark Herring in the general election. Herring defeated former assistant U.S. Attorney for Virginia Justin Fairfax in the Democratic primary election, which took place on June 11, 2013.
Although Obenshain was considered the early front-runner, polls showed Herring leading by a very slim margin in late October 2013, a likely effect, or occupational hazard, for Obenshain, of sharing what had become a contaminated GOP ticket. One week before election day, at least two influential backers - Planned Parenthood and Independence USA PAC - hoped to widen the gap with roughly one million dollars worth of media spots lampooning Obenshain for his past support of a "personhood" amendment, which would have banned birth control and abortions regardless of the circumstances," in addition to his stance against increased background checks on prospective gun owners. Independence USA PAC was heavily driven by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The PAC had already invested millions into ads hammering "far-right" Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli for his affiliation with the National Rifle Assocation (NRA), and the buys against Obenshain sought to lump the lesser-known AG contender together with Cuccinelli, who was the most recognizable, and possiblly most troubled, candidate appearing on the party's statewide ticket in 2013. Meanwhile, the NRA went on the counterattack; the organization unleashed a $500,000 anti-Herring ad into targeted Virginia markets. The NRA's assistance paled in comparison, however, to the $2.6 million infusion from the Republican State Leadership Committee into the the effort to elect Obenshain, whom the committee viewed as the only hope for preventing Democrats from scoring a clean sweep of the state-row races in 2013.
- Governing, "The 2013-2014 Attorneys General Races: Who's Vulnerable?," March 25, 2013
- The Washington Post, "Va. GOP settles on Cuccinelli, Obenshain and Jackson for November ballot," May 19, 2013
- Blue Virginia, "Virginia Primary Election Results Live Blog," June 11, 2013
- Politico, "Michael Bloomberg hits Virginia attorney general candidate," October 29, 2013
- Politico, "Planned Parenthood targets Mark Obenshain in ad," October 29, 2013
- Washington Post, "National Republican group gives an additional $660K to Obenshain campaign for Virginia AG," October 26, 2013