RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Four Republicans and two Democrats are running for Virginia attorney general, a much smaller field than in this year’s other statewide elections but still a diverse group of candidates highlighting the nuances within the two parties.
Virginia’s current attorney general, Mark Herring, has not faced a primary challenger since 2013, when he first ran for AG and defeated fellow Democrat Justin Fairfax for the Democratic nomination. The two-term incumbent will go against Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (Norfolk), who has called for “fresh voices” in the attorney general’s office.
The Republicans vying to be Virginia’s top lawyer have pushed similar agendas during their campaigns, including protecting gun rights and voter integrity initiatives, but each took a very different path to this year’s attorney general’s race. A state delegate, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach and two candidates who consider themselves to be political outsiders are all in the mix for the GOP nomination.
Called “the Commonwealth’s law firm,” Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General can conduct or assist certain criminal investigations and prosecutions, provide information to the public on scams and enforce state consumer protections laws. Among several other duties, the attorney general can also issue official legal opinions to lawmakers and give legal advice and representation to the governor and state government agencies.
Voters will pick between Herring and Jones during the Democratic primary on June 8, with early voting beginning on April 24. The Republican candidate will be selected during a May 8 convention. Since sweeping the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2009, Republicans have not won a statewide election in Virginia.
Democrats in the race for Virginia’s attorney general
Attorney General Mark Herring was expected to run for governor this year before flipping the script and announcing his intentions to run for a third term. Herring, a former state senator from Loudoun County, has touted his office’s work to eliminate Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits and to protect people’s access to health care during his re-election campaign.
Herring has also highlighted recent victories in court defending coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and fighting efforts to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue. One of Herring’s most consequential decisions as attorney general came just weeks after he took office when he announced he was using his authority to deem Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
“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,” Herring said in a statement when announcing his re-election bid.
Herring picked up key endorsements from Democratic leadership in the House of Delegates, but failed to secure one from Gov. Northam after saying the governor should resign in 2019 following a blackface scandal surrounding Northam’s medical school yearbook. Eventually, Herring admitted to wearing blackface while in college but never faced the same calls to resign as Northam did.
Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones
Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (D-Norfolk) entered the race for Virginia attorney general in July, months before Herring announced plans to seek a third term. Jones, 32, said the incumbent’s decision would not keep him from running as he called for “new voices” to take the helm in the attorney general’s office.
Jones was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017, following in the footsteps of his father, Circuit Court Judge Jerrauld Corey Jones, who served in the House from 1988 to 2002. He currently serves on the House Appropriations, Transportation, and Counties, Cities, and Towns committees.
During his campaign, Jones has highlighted his work in the legislature to help expand Medicaid, leading the effort to remove the Harry F. Byrd Sr. statue from Capitol Square and pushing to give the State Corporation Commission greater authority over Dominion Energy.
Jones told 8News he was “humbled” to be endorsed by Gov. Northam in early March, saying they are working towards the same goals and calling it a “major boost” for his campaign.
Republicans in the race for Virginia’s attorney general
Lesile Haley, a member of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors who served as chair for two years, announced her campaign for Virginia attorney general in January. Haley said she’s running to bring “steady conservative leadership to Virginia” and that she would be guided by the rule of law if elected.
Haley served as senior assistant ethics counsel with the Virginia State Bar for 14 years, is a partner at the law firm she formed and is a small business owner. A court appointed guardian for abused and neglected children for the last eight years, Haley says she will be the strongest advocate for children Virginia has ever had as an attorney general in her announcement video.
If elected, Haley claims efforts to defund the police would never happen under her tenure as attorney general. She also says she will be a strong defender of gun rights, defend “the life of the unborn” and protect seniors from scammers.
Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) is running to be Virginia’s top lawyer, saying he’s the “lonely voice of reason in Richmond” in a campaign video for attorney general.
Miyares, a former criminal prosecutor in Virginia Beach, became the first Cuban American to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly when he won the vacant Virginia Beach House seat in 2015. He serves on three committees: General Laws, Courts of Justice and Transportation.
He credits his mother, who left communist Cuba and became a U.S. citizen, for instilling “a passionate love of the freedom and democracy of America,” on his campaign website. In a campaign video, Miyares vows to protect “the rule of law” and condemns efforts to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement and reallocate funding away from police departments.
Chuck Smith, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach, is seeking another run for attorney general after failing to qualify for the GOP primary in 2017.
Smith enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1970 and served as a U.S. Navy JAG Commander before retiring in 2008. The Virginia Beach lawyer is a strong advocate for gun rights, calling Virginia’s “red-flag” law and one-handgun-a-month rule “unconstitutional” in a campaign video.
“It ought to be a hate crime for Americans to hate other Americans so much that they would strip their 2ndAmendment rights away from them during these times,” Smith says in the video.
Jack White, a lawyer and U.S. Army veteran, announced his intentions to seek the Republican nomination for attorney general in early March. White, an ordained minister, says he’s a “conservative outsider” running to build up Virginia’s “civic congregation.”
White clerked for Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. at the U.S. Supreme Court and was a member of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee that looked into the cultural climate and sexual assault allegations at the base, testifying before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Military Personnel on the committee’s findings.
Listing “voting integrity” as a key issue on his campaign website, White is one of many Republicans focusing on the changes made in the state legislature to make voting easier.
Who leads the money race?
According to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project and state records, Herring has been able to raise more than $1.7 million for his re-election bid and Del. Jones (D-Norfolk) has received nearly $1.3 million in campaign contributions.
On the Republican side, the campaign for Del. Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) has raised $478,712 and Smith’s campaign has taken in $318,380 since announcing his bid. Haley and White entered the race later than the other candidates, with Haley raising $119,583 and White bringing in $153,744 in the first three months of 2021.
As of April 16, Herring’s campaign reported having $1,386,399 on hand for campaign expenses and Jones’ reports showed he had $1,051,228. The Republicans in the race disclosed totals that were just a small fraction of what Herring and Jones’ campaigns had on hand, with Miyares’ campaign filing reports revealing $341,065 cash on hand, Haley with $67,023, White with $97,467 and Smith with only $31,563.