Just over a year after he first announced his bid for Virginia Attorney General, Albemarle Delegate Rob Bell is using the 2013 legislative session as a final chance to shore up his conservative, tough-on-crime credentials, and he’s calling on deep local pockets to help him win the seat currently held by gubernatorial hopeful and fellow Republican hard-liner Ken Cuccinelli.
Bell, a northern Albemarle resident, was an Orange County prosecutor before he was first elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates in 2001. His record in the decade-plus since reflects that background; most of the bills he’s introduced are courts-and-crime focused, from mandatory minimums for drunk drivers to stricter child pornography penalties.
He’s also positioned himself on the far right of his party on a number of issues. His first big public move this session was the introduction of even stricter voter ID laws than those in the bill Governor McDonnell signed into law last year. The 2012 bill required voters to provide ID, but also expanded the forms of ID people could present at the polls.
Bell believes the new law didn’t go far enough.
“Clearly, it wasn’t sufficient,” he said, pointing out that the son of Northern Virginia U.S. Representative Jim Moran was caught on video this year discussing forging utility bills as a way get around the 2012 law. The solution, he said, is his “photo ID—no exceptions” bill, which would make government-issued identification the only acceptable form ID at the polls.
He takes a more conservative stance than the governor on the automatic restoration of felons’ voting rights, too, saying he prefers the current case-by-case system.
Bell has also championed a few bipartisan measures. He worked across the aisle on mental health reform in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, and helped forge a bill allowing for advance directives—self-written guidelines for future treatment—for the mentally ill.
The field is still a crowded one in the attorney general race. Two Democrats, State Senator Mark Herring and former U.S. Attorney Justin Fairfax, are vying for the office, and Bell would have to defeat fellow Republican Mark D. Obenshain at a May 18 convention to secure his party’s nomination.
But he’s currently winning the race for campaign contributions. As of last month, he’d raised over $750,000, more than three times that of Obenshain or either of his potential Democratic opponents. Much of that money has come from local donors, according to financial disclosures. His top five donors—including coal millionaire Richard Baxter Gilliam and Berkshire Hathaway investment manager Ted Weschler—are all from Charlottesville and Albemarle.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, Bell said. “If you run for statewide office, you obviously have to start in your district and grow out,” he said.
Soon he’ll be criss-crossing the state with his opponents in an effort to do just that. Whether he’ll win support from Cuccinelli ahead of the May convention isn’t clear—Bell would only say that he’s spoken with the current Attorney General several times. Ultimately, he said, “it’s up to the voters.”