RICHMOND — Attorney General Mark R. Herring will seek a third term as Virginia's top lawyer next year, abandoning plans to run for governor in a crowded Democratic primary, according to five people with knowledge of his decision.

Herring, 58, called several Democrats on Wednesday to spread word of his choice. Herring’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among those Herring informed was Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (D-Norfolk), who in July formally announced his intention to run for the seat Herring had been expected to vacate. Jones said Herring’s decision will not change his plans.

“I entered the race for Attorney General because this Commonwealth is ready for fresh voices and ideas as we enter this new Virginia decade that reflect who we are, what we value, and where we’re going,” Jones, 31, said in a statement Wednesday. “My commitment to equity and giving a voice to those left behind is unflinching, and we are working tirelessly during this special session to make Virginia stronger and more just for every citizen.”

House Majority Leader Charniele L. Herring (D-Alexandria), who has no relation to the attorney general, said he called to give her what she called “welcome news.”

“He’s an incredible attorney general, that’s for sure,” she said. “I think of the things he’s done for marriage equality, civil rights and criminal justice reform, where he’s been a leader. . . . He represents us well.”

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said he was “very happy” when he heard Herring was running for reelection.

“He’s the most progressive AG we’ve ever had, and we would be fortunate to have him in office for another four years,” Beyer said.

Herring was the first candidate from either party to declare plans to run for governor, making his intentions known n December 2018 — nearly three years ahead of Election Day 2021.

He is the first to drop out of what will likely be a hard-fought Democratic primary that could include former governor Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe, who left office in January 2018, has been publicly mulling a run and raising big money. Other Democratic contenders include Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (Richmond) and Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (Prince William).

Incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) cannot seek reelection under the state constitution, which prohibits governors from serving back-to-back terms.

On the Republican side, the only declared candidate is state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield). Former House speaker Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) is considering a run, as are Northern Virginia businessman Pete Snyder and former state senator Bill Carrico from the state’s far southwest region.

A former state senator, Herring first won the attorney general’s office in 2013 on a ticket with McAuliffe for governor and Northam for lieutenant governor. He was widely expected to run for governor in 2017 — a career path sought by so many of the state’s attorneys general that “AG” is jokingly said to stand for “almost governor.”

A string of sweeping actions early in Herring’s first term fed that speculation, as he used the powers of his office to legalize same-sex marriage, challenge President Trump’s immigration ban and grant in-state tuition to certain undocumented immigrants.

Given his high profile, Herring surprised many by taking a pass on the 2017 governor’s race, a move that avoided a primary battle with Northam, his former Senate seatmate. He was thought to have the inside track on the 2021 nomination until he got tripped up in a blackface scandal early last year.

Herring called for Northam’s resignation in February 2019 after a racist photo — showing one person in blackface, another under a Klan hood — surfaced from the governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook. Days later, Herring acknowledged he had darkened his own skin to dress as rapper Kurtis Blow for a college party in 1980 when he was 19.

Herring eventually seemed to move past the episode. Most recently, his office has been best known for successfully defending restrictions Northam has imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and fighting efforts to block the governor’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s Monument Avenue.