Virginia attorney general election, 2013

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The Virginia attorney general election was held on November 5, 2013 following a Democratic primary election on June 11, 2013 and a Republican statewide convention on May 17-18, 2013.

Incumbent Ken Cuccinelli (R) opted to run for governor rather than seek a second term as attorney general in 2013.

Unofficial results on election night showed Mark Obenshain (R) leading Mark Herring (D) by less than 1,000 votes out of nearly 2.2 million cast. A week later, by the midnight deadline for local election boards to submit results to the state, Herring had taken the lead by an unofficial 165 votes.[1] The race appears headed for a recount, which can be initiated by the losing party if the margin of victory once the totals are certified is equal to or less than one-half of 1 percent.[2] The State Board of Elections' certification meeting is scheduled for November 25.[3]

Race background

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.[4]

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"[4] -- 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.[5] 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.[6][4]

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.[7][8] The NRA's assistance paled in comparison, however, to the $2.6 million infusion from the Republican State Leadership Committee into 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.[9]

Deadline Event
March 28 Last day to file candidacy for primary election
May 17-18 Republican primary convention
May 20 Voter registration deadline for primary election
June 11 Primary election, last day for non-party candidates to file candidacy
June 17 Last day for Independent candidates to file for general election
Oct. 15 Voter registration deadline for general election
Nov. 5 General election


General election

Recount: Virginia Attorney General General Election, 2013
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Democratic Green check mark transparent.pngMark Herring (MOV post-recount +907) 50% 1,105,045
     Republican Mark Obenshain 50% 1,104,138
Total Votes 2,209,183
Election Results Virginia State Board of Elections.
Virginia Attorney General General Election, 2013
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Democratic Green check mark transparent.pngMark Herring (MOV pre-recount +165) 49.9% 1,103,777
     Republican Mark Obenshain 49.9% 1,103,612
     N/A Write-In 0.2% 4,892
Total Votes 2,212,281
Election Results via Virginia State Board of Elections.


On November 25, 2013, the Virginia State Board of Elections certified the results of the attorney general race and declared Mark Herring (D) the winner. According to the certified vote totals, Herring defeated Mark Obenshain (R) by 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast.[10][11][12] A publicly-financed recount was ordered for the week of December 16, and Obenshain conceded on December 18. Judge Beverly W. Snukals, oversaw the recount court as it evaluated the ballot submissions from localities. Ultimately, the court upheld Herring's victory. According to the official recount results posted by the Virginia SBE, Herring beat Obenshain by 907 votes- a wide margin, in comparison to 165 vote difference calculated prior to the recount.[13][14][15]

Under state election law, the trailing candidate can request a recount if the margin of victory is less than 1 percent. If the margin is over half a percent, the candidate must pay for the recount.[16] Local election boards had until November 19, 2013 to certify their results and pass them onto the Virginia State Board of Elections, who faced a November 25 certification deadline.[17]

A recount in race for state attorney general had not been without recent precedent - in 2005 now-Gov. Bob McDonnell ran for the office against Creigh Deeds. The first result showed McDonnell with a victory of 323 votes, out of over 1.9 million votes cast. Deeds went on to file for a recount, which began on December 20, 2005. After preliminary figures revealed 37 additional votes for McDonnell, Deeds conceded, giving McDonnell a 360 vote margin of victory.[16]

In the event of a recount, elections officials double-check and re-add totals from voting machine records. During the 2005 recount, the returns from nine precincts were also examined by hand.[18] The recount cannot take place until after the vote is certified by the Board of Elections. Once that occurs, the apparent losing candidate has ten calendar days to file a recount petition with the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond.

The recount court, which determines the procedures of the recount, consists of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court where the recount petition was filed and two other judges appointed by the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Virginia. The court then appoints recount officials to represent the respective parties to the recount. Once all the votes cast are recounted, the court certifies the candidate with the most votes as the winner.[19]

Tracking the count

See also: 2013 Recount review: Herring's win seals Democratic sweep in Virginia
 :: Race for Virginia Attorney General remains too close to call

Late Tuesday night of election day - November 5, 2013 - Virginia Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins sent out an e-mail congratulating Mark Obenshain (R), although neither he nor Herring had claimed victory or conceded. "We want to make sure all precincts are accounted for and results are accurate, all absentee ballots are counted and every Virginian who cast a provisional ballot has their voice heard," Herring said.[20] By Friday after election day, results were still inconclusive; it was reported that there were 8,363 absentee ballot requests in Fairfax County, but only 4,168 of those votes were counted. 50.3% is a very low percentage for return when neighboring districts 10 and 11 had a return rate of 88% and 86% respectively. With it being a heavily Democratic area, it was expected that the approximately 3,000 ballots that had not been counted were likely to result in Herring taking the lead. Another discrepancy was found in the total number of absentee ballots cast. A pre-election news story by WUSA-9 showed Fairfax County reporting over 24,300 absentee ballots case, while the state Board of Elections’ site had reported just 22,484 absentee ballots cast as of November 7.[21] By the end of the weekend it was reported that instead of absentee votes, the main problem in Fairfax began with a malfunctioning optical scan machine in the Mason Governmental Center on Columbia Pike. The machine began Tuesday in good shape but stopped working after 710 ballots had been cast. Those ballots were then fed into a working machine and voting continued on that machine. By the end of the day, that machine produced a total of 2,688 votes. When election results were counted, the county reported the 710 votes instead of the 2,688 votes meaning 1978 votes were left unreported. Bedford county also found sizable errors and added another 732 votes to the count after election night. The Republican leaning county added 581 of those votes to Obenshain.[22]

A major battle took place over provisional votes - ballots cast by people who did not have legally permissible ID at the polls. Voters who cast these ballots had until Noon on November 8 to show proper ID to their local election board and explain why they cast a provisional vote. Board of Elections staff also reviewed every provisional vote and it was up to the Board to accept or reject each ballot.[23] As of the evening of November 11, the Fairfax County Election Board had rejected 138 provisional ballots and accepted 172, with 183 left to evaluate.[24] Just weeks before the election the State Board of Elections initiated a purge of over 38,000 names from the voter rolls. Some local administrators reported finding hundreds of names that should not have been removed, which may have potentially increased the number of provisional ballots cast.[25] Both campaigns urged voters to certify their ballots to ensure their vote was counted.[26] Taking into account a rule change, the Fairfax County Electoral Board certified its results around midnight of November 12.[27] In the end, the board upheld 271 of the freshly scrutinized provisional ballots: 160 went to Herring and 103 to Obenshain.[28], boosting Herring to declare himself the race's victor, despite Obenshain's refusal to concede "the closest statewide election in Virginia history."[29][30]

Herring's original margin of victory was slim enough to activate Obenshain's right, as the losing candidate, to request a state-funded recount, which he did on November 27.[31][32] The recount began on December 16, and Obenshain conceded two days later in a news conference in Richmond. While the three-member recount court had not yet finished tallying votes, unofficial totals from December 18 showed Herring had gained almost 800 votes.[33] “It’s apparent that our campaign is going to come up a few votes short,” Obenshain told reporters.[34] His loss gave Democrats control of the office for the first time in nearly two decades.[35]

Democratic primary election

Attorney General of Virginia Democratic Primary Election, 2013
Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngMark Herring 51.7% 72,861
Justin Fairfax 48.3% 68,177
Total Votes 141,038
Election Results Via:Virginia State Board of Elections.


General election

Note: Recount likely

Nominating conventions

Nominating Conventions in Virginia

The candidate selection process in Virginia differs between the political parties. According to the Code of Virginia:[38]

“The duly constituted authorities of the state political party shall have the right to determine the method by which a party nomination for a member of the United States Senate or for any statewide office shall be made. The duly constituted authorities of the political party for the district, county, city, or town in which any other office is to be filled shall have the right to determine the method by which a party nomination for that office shall be made.”

Democratic Party

The Democratic Party in Virginia used conventions to select nominees for statewide offices between 1981 and 2001 before shifting to primaries. The Virginia Democratic Party switched to the convention format for the 1981 election cycle to moderate the party after independent candidate Henry Howell won the 1977 primary. The nominating convention proved successful for Democrats in the 1980s with the election of Chuck Robb in 1981, Gerald Baliles in 1985 and Douglas Wilder in 1989. The change back to primaries in 2001 took place because of significant losses in state elections by the Democrats in 1993 and 1997. The Democratic Party did not hold a gubernatorial primary in the 2001 and 2005 election cycles as Mark Warner and Tim Kaine ran unopposed.[39]

Republican Party

The Republican Party in Virginia has used conventions to select nominees for statewide offices for much of its history. Republicans have only used primaries to nominate candidates in 1949, 1989, 1997 and 2005.[39] The convention process used in most elections draws from delegates selected by Republicans during municipal and county conventions. The number of delegates per county depends on the strength of the Republican Party in past elections.[40]

Delegates cast their votes on separate ballots for each statewide office. Any candidates who are uncontested automatically receive the party’s nomination. Contested races start with a ballot to determine if a candidate can surpass the 50% threshold. A candidate who wins more than 50% of first-round ballots receives the nomination for that office. If the first round of ballots does not clear this threshold, the two candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated. The balloting process cuts candidates in each round until three candidates remain. A ballot is taken to eliminate a third-place finisher and a final ballot is taken between the two remaining candidates.[41]


Attorney General of Virginia
Poll Mark Herring (D) Mark Obenshain (R)Not sureMargin of ErrorSample Size
Public Policy Poll
(May 24-28, 2013)
Roanoke University Poll
(July 8-14, 2013)
Public Policy Poll
(July 11-14, 2013)
Roanoke University Poll
(September 30 - October 5, 2013)
Christopher Newport Poll
(October 1-6, 2013)
Public Policy Poll (Early voters)
(October 19-20, 26-27, 2013)
Washington Post/Abt-SRBI Poll
(October 24-27, 2013)
Garin Hart Young Poll
(October 22-23, 2013)
Christopher Newport University Poll of Likely Voters
(October 25-30, 2013)
AVERAGES 41.56% 39.89% 18.11% +/-2.24 862.78
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to

Hypothetical general election match-up (May 2013)

Attorney General of Virginia - 2013 Hypothetical General Election Match-up
Poll Justin Fairfax (D) Mark Obenshain (R)Not sureMargin of ErrorSample Size
Public Policy Polling
(May 24-28, 2013)
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to

Democratic primary (May 2013)

Attorney General of Virginia - 2013 Democratic Primary Race
Poll Justin Fairfax Mark HerringUndecidedMargin of ErrorSample Size
Public Policy Polling
(May 24-28, 2013)
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to

Campaign sites & media

Mark Herring


"Family" - Herring's first 2013 campaign ad addresses the state senator's decision to back a transportation funding bill in order to "to get folks out of their cars and home to their families." Released September 27, 2013

Mark Obenshain


"Mark and Tucker" features Obenshain's daughter touting his record advocating for "mandatory life sentences for child predators and protecting families from abusive spouses." Released September 24, 2013

"Trust," the second ad of his campaign, recaps message of previous ad, highlighting Obenshain's toughness on handling domestic violence and sex crimes. Released October 1, 2013

In "Truth," supporters praise Obenshain as a prosecutor and protector of woman and families, disputes related attacks from opponent Mark Herring's campaign. Released October 16, 2013

Campaign finance

The Virginia State Board of Elections administers campaign finance law and maintains all records online.

For the primary election:

  • First Pre-Primary -- due by June 3
  • 8-Day Pre-Primary report -- due by June 3, 2013
  • Post-Primary report -- due by July 15, 2013

For the general election:

  • First Pre-General report -- due by October 15, 2013
  • 8-Day Pre-General report -- due by October 28, 2013
  • Post-General report -- due by December 5, 2013

Mark Herring

Mark Herring[42] Campaign Finance Reports
ReportDate FiledBeginning BalanceTotal Contributions
for Reporting Period
ExpendituresCash on Hand
Post-Primary ReportJuly 15, 2013$229,180.18$206,361.40$(666,172.95)$127,680.99
8 Day Pre-General ReportOctober 28, 2013$1,398,910.90$664,243.82$(1,591,252.96)$471,901.76
Running totals

Mark Obenshain

Mark Obenshain[43] Campaign Finance Reports
ReportDate FiledBeginning BalanceTotal Contributions
for Reporting Period
ExpendituresCash on Hand
Post-Primary ReportJuly 15, 2013$68,132.75$479,915.89$(745,285.67)$487,044.36
8 Day Pre-General ReportOctober 28, 2013$320,221.30$2,547,469.22$(2,616,065.77)$251,624.75
Running totals


Mark Herring

Herring's 2013 attorney general campaign was endorsed by The Washington Post, former Virginia House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, former Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran, in addition to the following list of public officials:[44][45][46]

  • Members of the State Senate:

Sen. George Barker (Fairfax)
Sen. Chuck Colgan (Prince William)
Sen. Adam Ebbin (Alexandria)
Sen. John Edwards (Roanoke)
Sen. Barbara Favola (Arlington)
Fmr. Sen. Edd Houck (Spotsylvania)
Sen. Janet Howell (Fairfax)
Sen. Mamie Locke (Hampton)
Sen. Louise Lucas (Portsmouth)
Sen. Dave Marsden (Fairfax)
Sen. Henry Marsh (Richmond)
Sen. Donald McEachin (Henrico)
Sen. John Miller (Newport News)
Sen. Phil Puckett (Russell)
Fmr. Sen. Patsy Ticer (Alexandria)
Fmr. Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (Arlington)

  • Members of the House of Delegates:

Fmr. Del. Ward Armstrong (Henry)
Del. Mayme BaCote (Newport News)
Del. Bob Brink (Arlington)
Del. David Bulova (Fairfax)
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax)
Del. Charniele Herring (Alexandria)
Del. Patrick Hope (Arlington)
Del. Algie Howell (Norfolk)
Del. Matthew James (Portsmouth)
Del. Joe Johnson (Abingdon)
Del. Rob Krupicka (Alexandria)
Del. Alfonso Lopez (Alexandria)
Del. Delores McQuinn (Richmond)
Del. Joe Morrissey (Henrico)
Del. Ken Plum (Fairfax)
Del. Mark Sickles (Fairfax)
Del. Lionell Spruill (Chesapeake)
Del. David Toscano (Charlottesville)
Del. Luke Torian (Prince William)
Fmr. Del. Katherine Waddell (Richmond)
Del. Vivian Watts (Fairfax)

  • Mayors:

Hon. David Bowers (Roanoke)
Hon. Trent Crewe (Wytheville)
Hon. Paul Fraim (Norfolk)
Hon. Michael Gillette (Lynchburg)
Hon. Earnie Porta (Occoquan)
Hon. Kristen Umstattd (Leesburg)
Hon. Molly Ward (Hampton)

  • County Supervisors:

Fmr. Sup. Hon. Susan Buckley (Loudoun)
Hon. John Foust (Fairfax)
Hon. Penelope Gross (Fairfax)
Hon. Gerald Hyland (Fairfax)
Hon. John Jenkins (Prince William)
Hon. Fred Luntsford (Wise)
Hon. Jeff McKay (Fairfax)
Hon. Tyrone Nelson (Henrico)
Fmr. Sup. Hon. John Peace (Wise)
Hon. Frank Principi (Prince William)
Hon. Ronnie Short (Wise)
Hon. Frank Thornton (Henrico)

For a complete list of Herring's endorsements, visit his official campaign website.

Mark Obenshain

Obenshain's 2013 attorney general campaign was endorsed by the following individuals and organizations:

  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch[47]
  • The Republican State Leadership Committee[48]
  • Vietnam veteran Hispanic activists Luis R. Quinonez and Daniel P. Cortez[49]
  • Sheriff Octavia Johnson (R-Roanoke City)[50]
  • Sheriff Jack Stutts (D-City of Franklin and Southampton County)[50]
  • Hampton Roads Business Leaders: Mayor Will Sessoms, Bruce Thompson, Suzzy Kelly, Tom Frantz, and John O. 'Dubby' Wynne[51]


See also

External links

Suggest a link


  1. Politico, Virginia AG race: Democrat widens lead, November 13, 2013
  2. Washington Post, "Obenshain, Herring virtually tied in Virginia attorney general’s race; recount expected," November 6, 2013
  3. Politico, "Recount for Virginia attorney general election possible," November 6, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Governing, "The 2013-2014 Attorneys General Races: Who's Vulnerable?," March 25, 2013
  5. The Washington Post, "Va. GOP settles on Cuccinelli, Obenshain and Jackson for November ballot," May 19, 2013
  6. Blue Virginia, "Virginia Primary Election Results Live Blog," June 11, 2013
  7. Politico, "Michael Bloomberg hits Virginia attorney general candidate," October 29, 2013
  8. Politico, "Planned Parenthood targets Mark Obenshain in ad," October 29, 2013
  9. Washington Post, "National Republican group gives an additional $660K to Obenshain campaign for Virginia AG," October 26, 2013
  10. Virginia State Board of Elections, " Election Results – General Election – November 5, 2013," accessed November 25, 2013
  11. Washington Post, "Herring wins Virginia attorney general race, elections board announces," November 25, 2013
  12. Blue Virginia, "Attorney General-Elect Herring: "I look forward to serving the people of Virginia as Attorney General," November 25, 2013
  13. Virginia State Board of Electiona, "2013 Attorney General Recount Race Results," accessed January 10, 2014
  14. Watchdog Virginia, "Undervotes loom large in AG recount bid," November 27, 2013
  15. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Obenshain lawyer raises possibility of contesting AG race," December 10, 2013
  16. 16.0 16.1 "A Virginia Recount Would Not Come Soon," November 8th, 2006
  17. MSNBC, Virginia Attorney General race still in limbo, November 7, 2013
  18. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named TCTC
  19. Virginia State Board of Elections, " Virginia Recounts and Contests – the Basics," accessed November 6, 2013
  20. ‘’Newsplex,’’ UPDATE: Attorney General's Race Too Close to Call, November 7, 2013
  21. Washington Post, Possible discrepancy in Fairfax absentee votes could affect count in AG race, November 7, 2013
  22. Hampton Roads, Virginia attorney general race narrows further, November 11, 2013
  23. ‘’Talk Radio News Service,’’ “Provisional Ballot Battle Looms Ahead of Virginia Recount,” November 7, 2013
  24. Politico, "Tuesday deadline in Virginia AG race," November 11, 2013
  25. ‘’Washington Post,’’ “ Virginia election officials purging almost 40,000 voters,” October 17, 2013
  26. ‘’Leesburg Today,’’ “AG’s Race Cound Hinge on Provisional Ballots,” November 7, 2013
  27. Fairfax County of Virginia, "Statement From Fairfax County Electoral Board on Nov. 9, 2013," accessed November 12, 2013
  28. Fairfax County Virginia, "Statement From Fairfax County Electoral Board," November 12, 2013
  29. NBC Washington, "In Va. Attorney General Race, Herring Ahead by 163 Votes," November 12, 2013
  30. The Charlotte Observer, "Democrat Herring widens lead in Va.'s AG race," November 12, 2013
  31. Politico, "Mark Obenshain to request recount in Virginia attorney general race," November 26, 2013
  32. Politico, "Mark Obenshain weighs recount in Virginia attorney general race," November 25, 2013
  33. Watchdog Virginia, "Undervotes loom large in AG recount bid," November 27, 2013
  34. Washington Post, Obenshain concedes Virginia attorney general’s race to Herring, December 18, 2013
  35. Politico, "Mark Obenshain to request recount in Virginia attorney general race," November 26, 2013
  36. The Washington Post, "Sen. Mark Herring to run for attorney general in 2013," July 24, 2012
  37. Washington Post, "Del. Bell to run for Virginia attorney general," December 5, 2011
  38. Code of Virginia, “Party to determine method of nominating its candidates for office; exceptions,” Accessed June 7, 2013
  39. 39.0 39.1 Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “What Just Happened in Virginia?” May 20, 2013
  40. Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Virginia GOP convention: Jackson wins LG nomination as Snyder withdraws," May 18, 2013
  41. Washington Times, "Chesapeake bishop surprises, wins Va. GOP lieutenant governor nomination," May 19, 2013
  42. Virginia State Board of Elections, "Campaign Finance Report: Mark Herring for Attorney General," July 15, 2013
  43. Virginia State Board of Elections, "Campaign Finance Report: Obenshain for Attorney General," July 15, 2013
  44. The Roanoke Times, "Former Del. Ward Armstrong won't run statewide in 2013," December 12, 2013
  45. Mark Herring for AG 2013, "Endorsements," accessed March 29, 2013
  46. The Washington Post, "Virginia endorsements: Ralph Northam and Mark Herring," October 16, 2013
  47. Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Editorial: Obenshain for AG," October 20, 2013
  48. National Journal, "Republicans Move Cash Down-Ballot to Deny Dems the Virginia Sweep," October 21, 2013
  49. Mark Obenshain for Attorney General 2014 Official campaign website, "Press story: Independent Hispanic Activists Endorse Obenshain for Attorney General," October 11, 2013
  50. 50.0 50.1 Mark Obenshain for Attorney General 2014 Official campaign website, "Press story: 59 Virginia Sheriffs Endorse Mark Obenshain for Attorney General," September 29, 2013
  51. Mark Obenshain for Attorney General 2014 Official campaign website, "Press story: Hampton Roads Business Leaders Endorse Mark Obenshain for Attorney General," October 9, 2013