|Image courtesy/Virginia Public Access Project|
State Sen. Mark Herring, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, believes Virginia is at a crossroads, and the Loudoun resident thinks the statewide race between he and Republican Mark Obenshain is critical to the path the commonwealth takes.
"I think we are at a defining moment in our state's political and cultural history right now,” Herring said in an Oct. 13 interview. “And I think the tickets, in a sense, reflect that.”
The GOP's Obenshain, in his interview with the Times-Mirror, didn't make quite as grand of a designation about the race, but the Harrisonburg state senator boasted that his focus on regulatory reform, combating human trafficking and defending against federal government overreach will best serve Virginian's quality of life and the economy.
While Herring has spent much of his campaign connecting Obenshain to Ken Cuccinelli, the right's firebrand gubernatorial hopeful, the most frequent mention Obenshain makes of Herring is to say the Democrat is running a dirty, negative campaign.
“While I've been sharing my positive view and agenda about what I'm going to do as attorney general, Mark [Herring] has been traveling, engaging in this same kind of false, negative attacks focusing on social issues,” Obenshain said during a debate in Loudoun Oct. 2.
Responding at the debate, Herring didn't dispute he's spent a fair amount time talking about Obenshain's record; but Herring defended that move, saying it's important voters are aware of the candidates' records.
"The big difference I think between us is, I've got a record of being responsible and pragmatic, more moderate in my social views and values,” Herring said. “And Mark has a very different approach, and it is much more of the Tea Party and social conservative side.”
On the near-ubiquitous social issues this election cycle, Obenshain was a sponsor of House Bill 2797 in 2012, which would've provided “that 'the right to enjoyment of life' guaranteed by [the Constitution of Virginia] is vested in each born and preborn human being from the moment of fertilization.” The measure, which eventually failed in the House of Delegates on a 43-53 vote, could have led to restrictions on women's access to contraception.
Obenshain also supported the contentious trans-vaginal ultrasound legislation in 2012.
But the Republican candidate has scrapped most talk of women's health, abortion rights and gay and lesbian rights' issues from his campaign.
If elected, Obenshain said he'll use the powers of the office to bolster state reforms – specifically examining the financial costs on all the state regulations on the books.
Obenshain called human trafficking, a growing concern in Virginia, “horrifying.” He said the number one public safety legislative need in Virginia right now is to make human trafficking a stand-alone felony offense.
Both Obenshain and Herring have consistently touched on combating financial abuse and manipulation of the elderly, saying that's an issue the attorney general's office must be especially tough on.
Herring specifically pointed to legislation he championed relating to elderly abuse as his proudest accomplishments in Richmond, along with his proposals to rid the commonwealth of dangerous synthetic drugs.
Reforming Virginia ethics and financial disclosure laws have expectantly been talking points of both campaigns.
Herring and Obenshain's proposals are similar in terms of bans and limits on gifts and stronger penalties for the failure of lawmakers to comply. The differences in the two's reform packages include Herring's call for an independent ethics commission to investigate wrongdoing and Obenshain's call for caps on contingency fees when the attorney general's office contracts with outside counsel.
While Herring fully supports expanding Medicaid in Virginia through the Affordable Care Act, Obenshain has said he doesn't believe expansion – or the Affordable Care Act in general – is the right approach for the state.
The two men also diverge on gay marriage. Herring said he believes in equal marriage treatment and questions the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage ban, while Obenshain said he believes “marriage is an institution to be entered into between a man and a woman” during a debate over the summer.
Herring formerly supported Virginia's ban on gay marriage, but he has been forthright in saying he's changed his stance on the issue.
Outside of their political lives, Herring and Obenshain share several commonalities. Both candidates are lawyers in private practice, husbands and fathers of two.