Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D), left, is running for re-election against Republican challenger John Adams. (Reuters and Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Reuters and Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The race for Virginia attorney general, on a slow boil since spring, heated up this week with new campaign ads from both the Democratic incumbent and his Republican challenger in a pre-Labor Day rollout of what could be an especially nasty matchup.

Incumbent Mark Herring (D) and John Adams (R) are running in the only attorney general’s contest in the country this November, attracting national attention and money, although both candidates say they want to take politics out of the office.

Herring’s first ad was a paean to his mother and what her struggles taught him. He quickly followed that up over the weekend with an attack that targets Adams, an attorney in a prominent Richmond law firm, for defending banks and corporations that have been prosecuted by federal officials over their involvement in a Ponzi scheme, a fraudulent claims charge and home foreclosures.

“John Adams — the best attorney general the powerful and well-connected can buy,” a voiceover in Herring’s ad says.

Adams’ introductory ad released Tuesday accused Herring of “ignoring” laws passed by the voters of Virginia.

“Service isn’t about dividing people or getting media attention. It’s about doing your job and getting results. As your attorney general, politics won’t influence anything I do. I’ll enforce the law and serve you,” Adams said in the ad.

Both men say politics has intruded too much on what has been considered the state’s top legal job. Herring, elected four years ago vowing to undo the activist tenure of his conservative Republican predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli II, was among the first attorneys general to challenge President Trump’s efforts to institute a “Muslim ban” in late January and has since pledged to resist the Trump administration, has worked to advance gay rights and abortion access, offer in-state tuition to certain illegal immigrants and to tighten gun control.

Adams, a conservative who once clerked for Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, wants to rein in what he describes as Herring’s activism. Soon after taking office, Herring refused to enforce the state’s ban on gay marriage, a stance later supported by the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage. He also refused to recognize concealed carry gun permits issued in other states, a position that was reversed months later when Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a law requiring Virginia to recognize them.

Adams also criticized Herring for for appointing  an independent counsel, Mark F. “Thor” Hearne II to defend Virginia's voter identification law, which was challenged by Democratic activists. The challenge lost at the U.S Court of Appeals for the 4th District.

Herring raised $2.6 million in the first six months of 2017, including money from a fund founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Democratic attorneys general, labor unions and $35,000 from author John Grisham. Adams raised $848,000 in the same period, with donors including the Republican Attorney Generals Association, corporate leaders and $23,000 in expenses donated by the candidate himself.

Those numbers just include contributions made through the end of June. The next round of campaign finance reports are due in mid-September and mid-October.

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