Two lawyers are vying for the Republican nomination for attorney general, one a longtime delegate with widespread support from political leaders and the other a political newcomer who has impressed analysts by raising more than $1.5 million for his race.
Del. Robert F. "Bob" McDonnell (Virginia Beach) has served in the House of Delegates since 1992 and chairs the body's Courts of Justice Committee, which oversees legal matters and appoints judges. He argues that his long political experience and alliances with leading Republicans, who have endorsed him in droves, would make him effective from Day One in office.
But Stephen E. Baril of Richmond, president of the city's bar association, said that with his legal experience, he would do a better job on the state's behalf in the courtroom. Baril, who has worked at the Richmond law firm Williams Mullen since 1981, has painted himself as a political outsider and appealed to business leaders for support.
McDonnell, a former prosecutor and retired Army officer, is a partner at Huff, Poole & Mahoney in Virginia Beach. He is pushing for longer sentences for sex offenders and repeat drug offenders. With former governor James S. Gilmore III at his side, he recently unveiled an anti-terrorism plan that would make the Office of Commonwealth Preparedness permanent, organize more mass casualty drills and study ways to get more federal funding.
Gilmore, who chaired a federal advisory commission on terrorism that made recommendations to improve homeland security before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, praised McDonnell's ideas.
Baril has advocated hiring 100 new state police officers who could be dispatched as needed anywhere in the state. He also wants to expand drug-related court programs, including faith-based initiatives, that provide supervised treatment to addicts. In addition, he has urged that the state spend $1 billion a year on transportation for the next decade, arguing that traffic has gotten so bad that any candidate running for statewide office should be talking about it. A funding plan for roads, however, is outside the law-and-order issues generally considered to be within the attorney general's purview.
The two candidates have clashed over sentencing for convicted criminals. Baril said the commission that sets voluntary guidelines for judges has been watering down sentences under McDonnell's watch. McDonnell countered that sentences have been stiffened significantly since he helped abolish parole in the 1990s.
Gilmore is one of five former attorneys general who have endorsed McDonnell. Six of the eight Republican members of the House of Representatives from Virginia also back McDonnell, according to his campaign Web site, as do well over two-thirds of the Republicans in the General Assembly. He's also garnered the support of several groups of social conservatives, including the political action committee of the Virginia Society for Human Life.
"The people who know the job best have endorsed me," he said.
Baril has countered with a long list of endorsements from business leaders and lawyers and argues that McDonnell lacks the appropriate legal experience. "His whole campaign has been based on a claim of political entitlement," Baril said.
The winner of the June 14 primary will face Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), who is unopposed for his party's nomination, in the Nov. 8 general election.