On November 16, I raised a red flag that Mark Obenshain and the Republicans could be preparing to “contest” the Virginia Attorney General’s election, thus sending it to the Republican dominated Virginia General Assembly for a decision. Some claimed I was worrying too much (note: Sen. Chap Petersen agreed that this was something to keep an eye on), but mostly I just wanted to make people aware that this was a serious possibility.
So this morning, I was pleased to see one of Virginia’s top political analysts, Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, basically agreeing with everything that I said.
Republican Mark Obenshain is trailing Democrat Mark Herring for attorney general by 164 votes. Obenshain could win with as few as 71 – with not a single one cast by an ordinary Virginian. It is a nuclear option that takes the election out of the hands of the electorate.
Obenshain could initiate what state law calls a “contest” in which the 140-member legislature decides the attorney generalship by a majority vote. That would be a minimum of 71. They shouldn’t be too difficult for Obenshain to round up. There are 87 Republican legislators. Many of them don’t like one bit that their party could be completely shut out of statewide office.
A contest would be high-risk. Democrats would almost certainly accuse Obenshain of stealing the election, having overridden the popular vote in an increasingly blue state. A contest also could be high reward. Obenshain would cement his status as his party’s titular leader and its likely gubernatorial nominee in 2017. But the big issue that year would probably be Obenshain’s scheming four years earlier.
I keep asking top-level Virginia Democrats why this reasoning is wrong, and I keep getting dead silence in response. Which, in my view, speaks volumes: that these people are VERY nervous about such a scenario, but hope that by not talking about it…well, I’m not sure, that it will just go away? The bottom line, from everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to, is that Democrats can’t legally stop Obenshain from contesting the election, thus throwing it to the Republican-controlled General Assembly. So again, I ask, why shouldn’t we all be worried about this exactly? Because we assume the Republicans will “do the right thing?” (what, out of the goodness of their hearts?) Any reason to assume that?
P.S. The State Board of Elections is scheduled to certify the Virginia election results tomorrow. Then, Obenshain’s team is almost certain to file for a recount, which he won’t even have to pay for since the race is within 0.5 percentage points. After that, assuming that Mark Herring still leadds (which is a high likelihood, as recounts rarely change much), then it’s crunch time for Obenshain et al – will they concede or contest? We should know within days.