Republicans in Northern Virginia raise money for attorney general candidate as best hope

Dozens of Republicans – and at least one Democrat – jammed the Fairfax County home of former congressman Thomas M. Davis late Wednesday to raise money for state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain amid polls suggesting the attorney general candidate may be the GOP’s only statewide hope against a possible Election Day sweep.

“We’ve got an awful lot at stake in these last few days of this election,” Obenshain said, with his daughter (and campaign driver) Tucker and wife, Suzanne, at his side. “We need to win, not only because winning is so important but because of the principles that are at stake.”

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Republicans said the surge of attention and money flowing into Obenshain’s campaign is a reflection of the long odds Ken Cuccinelli II (R) now faces against Terry McAuliffe (D) in the Virginia governor’s race.

Some Republicans at Wednesday’s fundraiser counted Cuccinelli out already. But others repeated the mantra that the election is all about who shows up on Nov. 5. With voters in an ill mood about their government and the negative tone of the gubernatorial race, several said they expected record low numbers of voters on Tuesday.

“This is not about issues. It’s about turnout,” Del. James M. LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) said.

Polls show McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by margins of 4 percent to 15 percent, while Obenshain (Harrisonburg) and state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun County) have been running neck and neck. A Washington Post-SRBI poll this week found Herring had a three-point lead over Obenshain, within the poll’s margin of error.

This election is also the first in which a downballot candidate has raised more money in the first five days of preelection reporting than the person at the top of the ticket, according to an update by the Virginia Public Access Project. The nonprofit’s records show Obenshain received $1.3 million in that period, compared with $147,000 for Cuccinelli. Overall, Obenshain has raised $4,951,603, compared with Herring’s $3,118,692, VPAP says.

Wednesday’s fundraiser was also an occasion for political nostalgia. Former Republican U.S. senator John W. Warner, leaning on a cane, stood side by side with Andrew P. Miller, a Democrat whom Warner defeated in 1978, to talk about the days when they stood atop apple crates and engaged in gentlemanly campaign debate. As they told it, there was nothing of the bitterness on display this year, especially between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.

“As you look at the two of us, it’s the symbolism of how this nation – the oldest continuously functioning constitutional republic on earth -- that’s how we function,” Warner said. “ [It’s] the strength of two parties together, and after the election, joined together to do what’s best for the state.”

They also talked about work by Obenshain’s late father, Richard D. Obenshain, to build Virginia’s Republican Party. Warner recalled meeting with Mark Obenshain’s mother after the August 1978 plane crash that killed her husband while he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate. Warner received her blessing and his party’s nomination to replace Richard Obenshain on the ticket and went on to win the first of five terms in Congress.

Miller, who served two terms as Virginia’s attorney general in the 1970s, took a shot at Herring’s remarks that he might not defend some laws passed by the General Assembly.

“I found that outrageous,” Miller said.

Herring has said he would not defend a law only if thorough analysis showed the measure clashed with the state or U.S. constitutions. He also has said he would not neglect to defend a state law simply because he disagreed with its policy or impact.

“I will take the politics out of the office and put the law first,” Herring said in a written statement Thursday. “That has been the precedent both here in Virginia and nationally, and that is how I will proceed as Attorney General. An Attorney General who would blindly defend a law that contravenes either the Virginia or U.S. Constitution is an Attorney General that is putting his or her own personal political views ahead of the law.”

This is not the first time Miller has strayed from the Democratic Party. He served on Cuccinelli’s transition team after his attorney general victory four years ago. Earlier this year, Miller also wrote an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in defense of Cuccinelli’s handling of the Star Scientific tax case after also receiving gifts from its chief executive.

Organizers said about 150 people gathered at the event hosted by Davis and his wife, former state senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, including Reps. Frank Wolf and Bob Goodlatte. Tom Davis said a few McAuliffe supporters also attended, including Dwight Schar, who is a part-owner of the Washington Redskins and former national finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Donors were asked to write $200 checks for Obenshain’s run.

Davis acknowledged Cuccinelli’s steep uphill climb but also said that President Obama’s entrance into the race for McAuliffe may also rev up Republicans who have been sitting on the sidelines.

“It’s never over till it’s over. And Cuccinelli is going to close hard,” Davis said. “Election night will be exciting.”

 
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