May 19, 2013

VIRGINIANS HAVE LONG regarded the attorney general in Richmond as the commonwealth’s top law-and-order enforcer. That changed in 2010 when the incumbent, Ken Cuccinelli II (R), took office. A former state senator, Mr. Cuccinelli remade the job into a platform for ideological and social activism, launching attacks on abortion, climate-change science and the Obama administration’s health-care law.

The two Democrats running for their party’s nomination for attorney general, in a June 11 primary, are intent on steering away from the politically charged causes that Mr. Cuccinelli has championed. Both men — Justin Fairfax , a former federal prosecutor, and Mark R. Herring, a state senator representing Loudoun and Fairfax counties — are capable lawyers who would make top-notch attorneys general.

Mr. Herring, 51, a former member of Loudoun County’s board of supervisors, is a respected, levelheaded legislator who has built a successful private law practice. He has a nuanced grasp of land use, public ethics and the difficulties facing parents who seek involuntary commitments for adult children who may represent a threat to themselves or others.

Mr. Fairfax, 34, who prosecuted robbery and drug cases in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria after a stint at a corporate law firm, is the more dynamic candidate and our choice for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Herring has a greater range of experience, but Mr. Fairfax combines an agile and impressive command of the issues with a prosecutor’s passion for justice.

He sees an opportunity to promote what he calls economic security by rooting out malfeasance in the markets for mortgage and student lending. We’re haven’t seen the evidence that those areas are in fact rife with fraud, but we do think Mr. Fairfax is fair-minded and bright enough to make adjustments along the way.

An equally impressive pair of Democratic candidates is competing for the nomination for lieutenant governor, a job vested in recent years with real clout by dint of its tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided state Senate. Both candidates — state Sen. Ralph S. Northam of Norfolk and Aneesh P. Chopra, a former technology czar both in the White House and under former Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine — are highly accomplished. We support Mr. Northam.

As a relative newcomer to the legislature, and the only physician in the state Senate, he was the chief sponsor of landmark legislation, in 2009, banning smoking in Virginia restaurants. Mr. Northam has also built a highly successful medical practice as a pediatric neurologist. While Mr. Chopra has been a pioneer in infusing government with entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. Northam has a combination of legislative know-how and private-sector acumen.

Some in Virginia have lamented what they see as a thin political bench among Democrats. But this crop of candidates suggests the emergence of a talented new generation. Republicans picked their nominees for attorney general and lieutenant governor over the weekend; because they did so in a closed convention, we did not make endorsements.