Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring formally launched his bid for a third term as the state’s top lawyer Wednesday.
Herring had previously intended to run for governor, but in September, he revealed he had decided to forgo a run for higher office, opting instead to seek to continue in his role, a decision he detailed in a series of calls with influential Virginia Democrats.
In a statement Wednesday, Herring described himself as “the people’s lawyer,” committed to “protecting and expanding the rights of all Virginians.”
“We’ve worked together to promote justice, equality, and opportunity for all Virginians, to expand and secure the civil rights of our fellow Virginians, and to show Virginians a new vision for what their Attorney General can do for them,” Herring said. “The progress we’ve made has been historic, but the work isn’t done. And I’m not the kind of person to walk away unless the job is finished.”
While he holds the incumbent’s advantage, Herring will still face competition in the Democratic primary next year. Herring will face Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who would become Virginia’s first African American attorney general.
Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor announced Dec. 4 that she was no longer considering a run. House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, has not ruled out a run but praised Mark Herring’s record in an interview following a conversation with him in September about his re-election bid.
Among Republicans, the candidates are Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, and Chuck Smith, a Virginia Beach lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2017.
Mark Herring is the first Democrat to serve as attorney general since 1994. If he were to win and complete a third term, he would become Virginia’s longest-serving attorney general since Abram Penn Staples, who held the post from March 1934 to October 1947.
In his current term, Herring has joined, and at times led, other state attorneys general in lawsuits challenging President Donald Trump’s administration, including its Muslim travel ban, its push against the Affordable Care Act, changes to environmental protection rules, changes to the U.S. census and more.
Herring has also defended the state’s COVID-19 restrictions in court, and he led a push for increased consumer protection as the pandemic raged. Herring has advocated for protections for so-called DREAMers, led efforts to protect the rights of LGBTQ Virginians, and backed the legalization of marijuana before Gov. Ralph Northam and other state leaders.
In a video posted to social media Wednesday, Herring outlined his priorities for another term: “Together we’ll work to keep you and your communities safe, fighting policies that fuel racism, hate and violence because we believe in justice for all Virginians. That means dismantling systemic racism, expanding opportunity and holding law enforcement accountable to the communities they serve”
Herring was endorsed Wednesday by Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th; Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax; and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Henrico.
Lucas had thrown her support behind Jones when he announced his bid in July.
“Jay represents a new generation of leadership in our Commonwealth that is committed to progressing our Commonwealth forward,” Lucas said at the time. “As the first African American woman to serve as president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate, I could not be more honored to support Jay’s campaign to serve as Virginia’s first African American Attorney General.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Lucas said she had decided to withdraw her support for Jones in favor of Herring.
“After Mark got in the race, I called Jay, and I told him, I think you’re qualified and capable, but Mark has done a good job. There’s no confusion. I am definitely in the camp with Mark,” Lucas said.
“I just right now cannot in good conscience go against Mark Herring as AG,” she continued. “Plain and simple. I have no reason not to support him. You have an experienced, capable AG with a strong proven record.”
Herring was among Virginia’s top three statewide officials beset by scandal in February 2019. The attorney general apologized for having worn blackface once as a college student at the University of Virginia.
Four days after Herring called on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over a racist photo on Northam’s medical school yearbook page, the attorney general disclosed in a meeting with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and then in a public statement, that he wore blackface in 1980 at a college party and had felt shame about it for decades.
An aide said at the time that Herring still planned to run for governor in 2021, a decision he later reversed.
Jones’ campaign did not release a statement Wednesday, but one of his supporters, Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, said in a statement: “Having made his announcement in December of 2018 to seek the office of governor, only to have it halted due to racial transgressions which have yet to be fully reckoned with, today’s announcement to seek a third term from Attorney General Herring is representative of the self-serving, old-guard politician ... desperate to hang on to power.”
Herring, 59, was elected in 2017 to a second consecutive term as attorney general. He topped Republican John Adams after campaigning, in part, on his efforts to eliminate a backlog in the testing of rape kits and to reduce sexual and domestic violence.
Herring was town attorney in Lovettsville, in Loudoun County, from 1992 to 1999, and then served on the county Board of Supervisors from 2000 to 2003. He won a special election for the state Senate in February 2006 to succeed Republican Bill Mims, who had been named chief deputy attorney general. Mims now serves on the state Supreme Court.
In 2013, Herring beat Justin Fairfax for the Democratic nomination for attorney general by about 4,500 votes. In the general election, Herring edged state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, by 165 votes in a contest that went to a recount.
Just 13 days into his first term as the state’s 48th attorney general, Herring sparked controversy on a national stage when he announced that he deemed Virginia’s 2006 ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He said he wanted Virginia to “be on the right side of history.” (As a state senator, he had supported the state’s ban on gay marriage.)
A month later, in Norfolk, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the state’s ban violated the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.