Robert B. Bell (Bell campaign)

Cuccinelli (R), the current attorney general who is running for governor, has built a national reputation and Tea Party following with an aggressive conservative agenda that has included suing the federal government over the health care law and investigating a former University of Virginia climate scientist.

At a news conference in Richmond, Bell spoke favorably of those actions while highlighting his own conservative credentials.

Bell spent five years as a prosecutor in Orange County, Va. As a member of the House, he said, he’d pushed for tougher criminal laws, lower taxes and better protection against eminent domain abuses.

“I’m a conservative and a crime-fighter,” said Bell, who is chairman of the Virginia State Crime Commission

In response to questions from reporters, Bell said he agreed with Cuccinelli’s contention that the federal government had exceeded its authority with the health-care law.

“Someone has to stand up to that,” Bell said. “If I see the federal government exceeding its constitutional power, I will stand up to that.”

Bell also was asked about “climategate,” Cuccinelli’s investigation of former UVA climate scientist Michael Mann. Mann’s work has been under attack by global warming skeptics, particularly after references to a statistical “trick” Mann used in his research surfaced in leaked e-mails. Mann and others have said the e-mail was taken out of context. Some of his methodologies have been criticized by other scientists, but several inquires have concluded that there was no evidence that Mann engaged in efforts to falsify or suppress data.

“If, in fact, there’s fraud, not only can the attorney general address it, but he should address it,” Bell said. “It’s not a partisan political issue to say, ‘You’re getting government grants with bogus data.’ If, in fact, it turns out that it’s not fraud, then it’s not something ... that we should be addressing.”

State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) announced last week that he will explore running for attorney general in 2013.