On your Marks: Who will be Virginia’s next top cop?

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Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo. Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo.

Although you might not know it from the media coverage, there is actually a statewide race currently underway that doesn’t involve Ken Cuccinelli’s ethical fungibility, Terry McAuliffe’s used-car-salesman smile, or Bishop E.W. Jackson’s endlessly entertaining series of outrageous statements. But with those characters sucking up all of the available political oxygen, you could be forgiven for failing to pay attention to the attorney general’s contest.

After all, the low-key race features two bland-looking state senators named Mark (Loudoun County Democrat Herring and Harrisonburg Republican Obenshain), and has thus far been distinguished by the fact that the candidates often appear indistinguishable.

And that, believe it or not, is exactly how one of the candidates want it. See, with the Republican nominees for both governor and lieutenant governor widely regarded as far outside the mainstream (and, in Cuccinelli’s case, increasingly corrupt), it behooves Obenshain to appear as reasonable and centrist as possible. Which is why he spends so much time insisting (as he recently did to The Richmond Times-Dispatch) that “the principles and policy positions that I have laid out in the course of my campaign are mainstream Virginia principles and values.”

Is it possible that Virginia’s voters will fall for it? Well, considering that our current AG pulled off a similar bait-and-switch in 2009, anything is possible. But it should be noted that the Cooch benefited from a well-run gubernatorial campaign by Bob McDonnell, and appeared on the ballot right below well-known moderate Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling. In contrast, Obenshain is running on a ticket with two guys who are even more conservative than he is—which, if you know anything about Obenshain’s record, is really saying something.

And if you don’t know anything about Obenshain’s record, here are just a few of his greatest hits (helpfully compiled by Lowell Feld at his excellent political blog Blue Virginia):

• Beginning in 2009, he introduced amendments in three consecutive sessions to prohibit state funding for “any organization providing abortion or abortion counseling services.”

• That same year he sponsored a bill that would require any woman who had a miscarriage to report it to the police within 24 hours.

• In 2012 he voted for a “personhood” bill, which would grant a fertilized egg the full rights of a citizen of the Commonwealth, effectively criminalizing many forms of contraception, outlawing all abortions in Virginia, and making in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research illegal (as Feld has noted, Obenshain also sponsored similar bills in 2007 and 2011, pledging to “extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to the unborn from the moment of conception.”)

With a record as extreme as this, it’s hard to see how Obenshain whitewashes his way to victory. After all, Mark Herring might be a bit of a boring wet blanket, but when compared to the varying shades of right-wing theocracy championed by the Republicans, it seems more and more likely that he will win the “lesser-of-two-evils” sweepstakes.

Then again, there was a time when the words “Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli” seemed equally fantastical, so we’re not taking anything for granted. Who knows? If voter turnout is anything like 2009, Obenshain’s prayers for political power might finally be answered.

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