VIRGINIA’S DOWN-TICKET races for lieutenant governor and attorney general don’t get much play, which is a pity. Both offices wield real power and serve as springboards for future gubernatorial bids. The campaigns themselves have been fascinating, mostly as exercises in shape-shifting by the ultra-conservative Republican candidates.

In the race for lieutenant governor, a sober, low-key and well-respected Democratic state senator, Ralph S. Northam of Norfolk, is pitted against E.W. Jackson of Chesapeake, a Republican pastor whose rhetorical overkill compels journalists to overemploy the euphemism “fiery.” Mr. Jackson has spent much of the campaign trying to persuade Virginians to disregard his toxic oratory and venomous views on practically everything.

Where Mr. Northam, a fiscal conservative, is measured and moderate — Republicans tried to persuade him to switch parties in 2009 — Mr. Jackson is drunk with his own words, incapable of resisting bombast and demagoguery. While Mr. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, speaks movingly of the children he has treated, Mr. Jackson blathers about his “love for all people” — even as he goes about savaging Democrats (agents of Satan), homosexuals (“very sick people”) and religious minorities (followers of “false” religions).

Virginia voters would be within their rights to roll their eyes at the spectacle of Mr. Jackson’s campaign. That’s fine, as long as they remember to vote for Mr. Northam.

While the lieutenant governor has few responsibilities, the office is invested with the power to cast a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate. Given that the Senate is now evenly divided, with Democrats and Republicans each holding 20 seats, that matters.

The race for attorney general, who leads an office that functions as the law firm for the governor, legislature and agencies of state government, presents a choice almost as stark.

The Republican, state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain of Harrisonburg, is a doctrinaire conservative who has tried to explain away a legislative record that earned a perfect rating from the right-wing Family Foundation. Not content to oppose abortion rights, Mr. Obenshain introduced a senseless bill that would have required women to report miscarriages to the police. Amid the resulting outcry, Mr. Obenshain withdrew the bill; now he says he didn’t mean it.

Mr. Obenshain fought every politically viable attempt to provide money to rescue the state’s crumbling road and rail system from obsolescence. He opposed legislation to ensure that homosexual state workers would be protected under Virginia’s anti-discrimination law.

The Democratic candidate for attorney general, state Sen. Mark R. Herring of Loudoun County, is an experienced lawmaker and former member of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors. In Richmond, he has pushed through important legislation to protect elderly Virginians from financial fraud and to ban the sale of dangerous “designer” drugs. He is well versed on a range of issues facing Virginians, including 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. Obenshain would follow in the footsteps of Ken Cuccinelli II, the GOP gubernatorial candidate and current attorney general, who has turned the office into a platform for ideological crusades. Mr. Herring would hew to the former Virginia tradition of offering restrained and responsible advice.