HARRISONBURG — No matter the outcome in the race for attorney general, the delay in determining a winner is holding up the plans of those interested in becoming the next state senator.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, remained locked in a tight race Monday as local electoral boards certified votes from last week’s election to the Virginia State Board of Elections. Totals are due by midnight tonight.
At press time Monday night, state Board Of Elections had Herring leading Obenshain by 117 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast. The tally had Herring at 1,103,610 and Obenshain at 1,103,493.
The state will then certify the vote on Nov. 25. If the winner is victorious by less than 1 percentage point, the losing candidate may ask for a recount, which the candidate must pay for. If the margin of victory is less than one-half of 1 percent, the state will pay most of the costs associated with the recount. Either way, a request for a re-tabulation of votes can’t be made until after the Nov. 25 certification.
A special election will be needed to fill the senate seat of the eventual winner, a process that was of course known heading into the fall election. But the close race, and likely recount, stalls the process for Obenshain’s and Herring’s districts.
In Obenshain’s 26th Senate District, the chairmen of local Republican committees canceled a meeting scheduled for last Wednesday, the day after the election, because the race was undecided. If Obenshain had been the undisputed winner, the meeting would have been held to go over ground rules for the process to pick the GOP nominee for a special election. The 26th district covers all of Harrisonburg and Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren counties, and a part of Rockingham County.
“We can’t jump ahead and do anything until we have a winner,” said Judy Way, chairwoman of the Rockingham County Republican Committee. “We just have to sit back and wait.”
Patience will be needed: In the 2005 race for attorney general, then-Del. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, wasn’t officially declared the winner over Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds for attorney general until Dec. 21, after a recount was performed. If the Obenshain-Herring recount follows the same timeline, a winner won’t be known until about two weeks before the 2014 General Assembly convenes Jan. 8.
The process would have been “hectic” even without a recount and will be only “more intense” if an Obenshain victory follows one, said Jeremy McCleary, the 26th district’s chairman from Woodstock. He said protocol also calls for a seven-day notice to be made for a meeting of committee leaders.
It’s unknown yet if all of that would push the process into the General Assembly session, giving the Senate only 39 members. The governor sets the special election date.
“We’re in a position to sort of sit back,” McCleary said. “We’ll do what we can to move forward at a rapid, but prudent pace.”
If Obenshain is the winner, the district will meet as soon as it can to determine a filing fee for candidates interested in the post and decide on the method to pick a nominee for the special election: a convention or primary election.
“There will be no fooling around,” Way said.
The only confirmed Republican candidate is Todd Holtzman, a Mount Jackson Town Council member.
“I’m 100 percent committed to run,” he said. “I’ve been working two years to get ready.”
While it’s important to focus on Obenshain’s election, Holtzman said he’s doing what he can to stay active and keep his name on voters’ minds, such as fundraising for the senator’s recount efforts.
On the Democratic side, no candidates have come forward for the possible opening, and no meetings to determine the nomination process for a special election have been set if Obenshain wins, said Mike Ritchie, chairman of the Rockingham County Democratic Committee.
The district, though, has long been solidly Republican. Obenshain, who is in the middle of his third four-year term, last faced Democratic opposition in 2007, when he defeated Maxine Hope Roles with 65 percent of the vote.