As the Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia fizzle in the polls, the GOP is turning to its equally conservative but little-known nominee for attorney general as the last line of defense against a complete washout in the Nov. 5 election.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which builds farm teams for gubernatorial and federal races by helping elect down-ballot candidates for state office, has stroked four big checks ““ for a total $1.35 million ““ to Mark Obenshain just this month.
Unlike his fellow Republicans on the ticket, Obenshain is running even and possible ahead in campaign contributions and public opinion against his Democratic rival, Mark Herring.
“This Obenshain thing is very real in Virginia and as the governor’s race becomes less of a race, the attorney general’s race seems to be the talk,” said Chris Jankowski, president of the RSLC. “Donors are starting to see that Obenshain can get across the line with some more support, and we’re obviously the biggest investor.”
A string of polls showing Democrat Terry McAuliffe beating Republican Ken Cuccinelli by seven to 10 percentage points in the governor’s race is forcing Republicans to contemplate losing the lock on state government they hold for only the second time since the Civil War. Republicans currently control all of the statewide offices outside the two Senate seats ““ governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general ““ and both the House of Delegates and the Senate. That’s a point of pride and a practical advantage for the Republican Party in a major battleground state, though Democrat Barack Obama carried Virginia in the last two presidential elections.
“It’s a true swing state and it’s always a struggle to maintain Republican control in Virginia,” said Jankowski, who lives in Richmond. “The counties you need to win in Virginia look a lot like the counties you need to win in Florida, Ohio, and Colorado.”
Obenshain’s record as a state senator since 2003 is out of step with such swing counties of moderate, suburban voters, but he’s benefiting from the lower profile typical of candidates who aren’t at the top of the ticket.
The Harrisonburg lawyer proposed a bill that would have required women to report miscarriages to the police or face a misdemeanor charge, for example, though he withdrew the bill. With Cuccinelli, he co-sponsored legislation that declared life begins at fertilization, which critics said outlawed all abortions and could have limited access to birth control. Obenshain’s spokesman, Paul Logan, said he supports an exception to save the life of the mother but he did not outline exceptions for rape or incest.
Obenshain also opposed raising taxes to upgrade the state’s transportation system and protecting gay and lesbian state workers from discrimination.
But while McAuliffe has outgunned Cuccinelli on television with attack ads portraying him as an extremist, Obenshain’s opponent has struggled to get a similar message out. In a recent Quinnipiac University survey, 46 percent of likely voters said Cuccinelli is too conservative; 71 percent said they did not know enough about Obenshain to form an opinion.
“As voters start to tune into these down-ballot races, they will see that Obenshain would be a continuation of Cuccinelli,” said Kevin O’Holleran, Herring’s campaign manager. “The whole Republican ticket is totally outside the mainstream.”
If Obenshain wins the attorney general race, he would be well-positioned to run for governor in 2017. His father, Dick Obenshain, served as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and a co-chairman of the Republican National Committee in the mid-1970s. He died in a plane crash while running for the U.S. Senate in 1978. Obenshain’s mother, Helen, went on to serve as Virginia’s committeewoman to the RNC. “The son’s roots are indeed strong and firm,” said Sunday’s endorsement by The Richmond Times Dispatch,which took the unusual step of withholding an endorsement in the governor’s race.
“We have been reaching out to Republicans, Democrats and independents, and we think this is a race we can win,” said Logan of the Obenshain campaign. “Our positive message is allowing us to break through.”
The last time Democrats swept the statewide offices in Richmond was 1989. Split-ticket victories ““ in which one party wins the governor’s race and another wins the attorney general post ““ are more common. Both of the last Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, served with Republican attorneys general.
Two weeks before the election, the polls suggest the attorney general’s contest is the only horserace on the ballot. Obenshain received support from 46 percent of likely voters, compared to Herring with 45 percent, in the latest survey by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy. Obenshain’s numbers have improved by 4 percent since earlier this month, while Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson were lagging behind their Democratic opponents by 7 and 12 points, respectively.
“The Attorney General’s race could very well be the one we wait up late for on Nov. 5,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the center, in a statement announcing the polling results.
The Roanoke College poll found a similar state of play. Obenshain was three points ahead of Herring, statistically tying the race, while Cuccinelli was six points behind and Jackson was four points behind the Democratic nominees.
Obenshain also appears to be winning the money race, thanks to the influx of money from the national Republican group. Both he and Herring had collected about $2.4 million as of the end of September ““ before the $1.3 million from the RSLC poured in.
What We're Following See More »
"Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson told CNN Thursday that Mitt Romney was considering endorsing him for president this fall." He said the two had recently spoken. Johnson's running mate, Bill Weld, agreed that they have a good chance of winning the endorsement, especially if they meet the 15% polling threshold for participating in the presidential debates.
"It is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president," said Hillary Clinton in becoming the first woman to accept a nomination for president from a major party. Clinton gave a wide-ranging address, both criticizing Donald Trump and speaking of what she has done in the past and hopes to do in the future. "He's taken the Republican party a long way, from morning in America to midnight in America," Clinton said of Trump. However, most of her speech focused instead on the work she has done and the work she hopes to do as president. "I will be a president of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. For the struggling, the striving, the successful," she said. "For those who vote for me and for those who don't. For all Americans together."
Supporters of Bernie Sanders promised to walk out, turn their backs, or disrupt Hillary Clinton's speech tonight, and they made good immediately, with an outburst almost as soon as Clinton began her speech. But her supporters, armed with a handy counter-chant cheat sheet distributed by the campaign, immediately began drowning them out with chants of "Hillary, Hillary!"
If a new poll is to be believed, Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania. A new Suffolk University survey shows her ahead of Donald Trump, 50%-41%. In a four-way race, she maintains her nine-point lead, 46%-37%. "Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, going back to Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992. Yet it is a rust belt state that could be in play, as indicated by recent general-election polling showing a close race."
Wednesday was the third night in a row that the Democratic convention enjoyed a ratings win over the Republican convention last week. Which might have prompted a fundraising email from Donald Trump exhorting supporters not to watch. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," the email read. "Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."