Eyes On AG Race

After Months As A Team, Obenshain And Bell To Face Off

Posted: November 9, 2012

HARRISONBURG — They traveled the state for months eliciting support for a constitutional amendment that voters approved Tuesday.

Now, it’s time for central Valley legislators Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, to campaign for themselves: Both are seeking their party’s nomination in next year’s race for Virginia attorney general. Current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican, is seeking the GOP nomination for governor next year.

Obenshain announced to supporters on Wednesday that with the 2012 election over he is ready to formally kick off his campaign for attorney general in “the coming days.”

Meanwhile, Bell, who represents the Elkton area of Rockingham County, told supporters earlier in the day that they could focus on next year’s goal once they “catch their breath” after Tuesday.

Heading into the election, the two legislators were busy touting their proposal to amend the Virginia Constitution to restrict the use of eminent domain. Their proposal would bar government from taking real estate from one private property owner to give it to another private owner or entity, such as a commercial developer. Both houses of the General Assembly passed the measure this year, sending it to voters in a referendum in Tuesday’s election.

“We predicted that the biggest hurdle would be at the legislature,” Bell said Thursday.

Indeed, the ballot question passed with nearly 75 percent of the vote Tuesday. In Rockingham County, the total was 85 percent.

In Harrisonburg, support registered at 74 percent, while in Albemarle County, the center of Bell’s district, it was 78 percent.

“It has been a long time coming,” Obenshain said Thursday.

Shaping Messages

In his email to supporters, Obenshain said the re-election of President Barack Obama makes it “imperative” for Virginia to choose an attorney general who will protect against “federal encroachment.”

He expects the Virginia attorney general will be busy over the next four years defending the state’s “right-to-work” status and fighting against what he views as overregulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“What people are looking for is somebody who is ready and willing to stand up and take on the great fights of our generation, and many of them [have to do with] the proper role of government,” Obenshain said. “This administration has shown a penchant for overreaching constitutional and statutory regulations.”

In a similar vein, Bell said his campaign would focus on “standing up for the Constitution,” including defending personal property rights.

Promoting public safety will also be a priority, he said. Bell noted his work to fight sex offenses, including increasing the penalties for criminals who solicit child pornography, and making it easier to obtain a protective order without an arrest warrant.

He and Obenshain carried legislation imposing a mandatory life sentence for adults convicted of raping children younger than 13. That became law on July 1.

Yet unlike the attorney general of the United States, Virginia’s top prosecutor has less responsibility to enforce criminal law and instead works on issues such as Medicaid fraud and consumer protection.

Competition Heats Up

Obenshain and Bell face competition within their party to replace Cuccinelli from John Frey, clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court.

A convention will be held in May to choose the nominee.

For the Democratic Party’s nomination, candidates so far are Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, and Justin Fairfax, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Arlington lawyer Mike Signer, the former counsel to then-Gov. Mark Warner, is also expected to seek the nomination.

Warner, now a U.S. senator, said this week that he may seek the Democratic nomination for governor, and would decide by Thanksgiving.

In addition to Cuccinelli, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, is also seeking the GOP nomination for governor, while Northern Virginia businessman Terry McAuliffe announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s top office.

McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, lost the 2009 gubernatorial nomination to Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Hot Springs. Deeds then lost to Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee, in the general election.

Democrats will hold a primary election next year to determine their slate of candidates for statewide offices.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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