Meet the Virginia GOP’s ‘Saving Grace’
While Cuccinelli struggles, Mark Obenshain is running quite well in the attorney general’s race.

Mark Obenshain


Jim Geraghty

The outlook for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli isn’t good, and lieutenant-governor candidate E. W. Jackson is in a similar tough spot, trailing consistently and having problems in his own party: Jackson’s only getting 81 percent of Republicans in the most recent Christopher Newport University poll.

But the attorney general’s race is a different story. There Republican Mark Obenshain has run no worse than even with Democrat Mark Herring, leading by 3 in the Roanoke College poll and by 1 in the CNU poll.

A 51-year-old three-term state senator from Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley, Mark Obenshain was, until recently, a little-known figure statewide. (Quinnipiac found his name ID increasing 25 points since August.) He’s enjoyed the endorsement of 59 sheriffs, including one Democrat and 25 independents. The Virginian-Pilot credited his “largely mistake-free, upbeat campaign” and the way he “stuck to issues he wants to discuss, agreed with Democrats’ call for a $100 gift limit amid an ethics reform furor, and focused on himself rather than relentlessly attacking Herring.”

Obenshain sat down with National Review’s Jim Geraghty on Tuesday to discuss his campaign, his goals, and the mood of the Virginia electorate.


Jim Geraghty: Over at National Journal there’s a headline, ”With Cuccinelli Failing, Mark What’s-His-Name Could Be the GOP’s Saving Grace.” It’s the most negative headline and positive headline at the same time. How does it feel to be seen as the “saving grace,” and what’s it been like to campaign largely in obscurity while there’s this clash-of-the-titans going on at the top of the ticket?

Mark Obenshain: It is the standard. There’s nothing really that unusual about it. During these statewide races, the governor’s race always sucks all of the oxygen out of the room, and nobody notices that there are down-ticket races until late September or October anyway. We knew that would be the case. We’ve been out there working hard laying the foundation during the course of the past year, two years. It’s hard, quiet work that hopefully pays dividends in the final days of the race, and we think that hard work is paying dividends.

None of the attorney-general races ever firm up until October. This is no different, and we’re pleased with where we stand right now.

Geraghty: Most of the polls have you tied with your rival, or ahead by a point or two, and you’re running even among women in most polls, while Ken Cuccinelli is in a rough spot right now, with a giant gender gap. Are you doing something right, or is it just that you haven’t had Terry McAuliffe’s television ads run against you? Should Republicans be looking at your campaign and saying, ”We should be doing more of that”?

Obenshain: I have no idea. I think you’ll have to talk to the talking heads and pundits and you guys can figure that out. We had a plan to run a positive, focused, disciplined, issue-oriented campaign. We’ve stuck to that plan. We haven’t let the opposition take us off message with their divisive, partisan, negative, false attacks. We’ve been able to do a lot of things pretty well and we’re pleased with where we sit.

GERAGHTY: What is the most consequential difference between you and your rival, Herring?

OBENSHAIN: There certainly are a lot of differences, and I think you see it in the kind of campaign we’ve run.

I’m out there talking about my vision, what I’m going to do as attorney general, keeping communities safe and keeping our economy strong, and my opponent’s talking about what a terrible guy I am. I can’t tell you how many people have told me how tired they are, how exhausted they are by all of the negative attacks. Yes, you have to draw distinctions, but there’s a difference between drawing distinctions, defining yourself, and the kind of negativism we’ve seen during the course of this campaign. I’m running the issue-oriented campaign, and the other side is running the attack campaign.

In terms of policy differences, I believe in the free market and our right-to-work laws. My opponent seems to believe in set-asides for organized labor, and doesn’t seem to mind imposing increased toll burdens on his constituents who may not be able to afford that.

My duty as attorney general is going to be to defend Virginia law, when it’s challenged, whether I agree with it or not. My opponent seems to believe he can pick and choose which challenges he wants to defend and substitute his judgment for the General Assembly, or in the case of constitutional amendments, the voters of Virginia. I think those are big differences in approach to the office of attorney general’s race.