Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring will seek a third four-year term as the state's top prosecutor, forgoing a run for governor in 2021.
Herring revealed his decision in a series of calls with influential Virginia Democrats on Wednesday. That included Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who also is also running for attorney general, and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, who has said she was considering a run.
The attorney general's decision leaves state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax as the announced Democratic candidates for governor in 2021, in what already looks to be a crowded field.
Looming over the race is former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a well-connected politician and powerful fundraiser, who has filed paperwork to set up a campaign committee for another run, but has not yet made a formal announcement.
Mark Herring could not be immediately reached for comment. The director of his political fundraising arm, Tommy Keefe, did not respond to a request for comment.
While he holds the incumbent's advantage, Mark Herring will still face competition for the attorney general nomination next year. In addition to Jones, Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor is considering a bid, and Charniele Herring would not rule out a run on Wednesday.
Jones confirmed Wednesday he had spoken to the attorney general about his decision, adding that he still felt there is an "urgent need for change and real, diverse representation for every voter" in Virginia. Jones would become Virginia's first Black attorney general
"I entered the race for Attorney General because the Commonwealth is ready for fresh voices and ideas as we enter this new Virginia decade that reflects who we are, what we value and where we're going," Jones said in a statement.
Charniele Herring, meanwhile, praised Mark Herring's record as the state's top lawyer and top law enforcement official. Asked whether she is still considering running for attorney general, the House majority leader said she was focused on the legislative work facing Democrats this year, including at the ongoing special session.
"We did speak, and needless to say, he's an incredible Attorney General and has been strong on so many issues," Charniele Herring said. "He said this is the best position for him to serve in. I believe he loves his job."
Already Wednesday, Herring had secured the endorsement of at least one member of Virginia's congressional delegation. Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, said in a statement that Virginia "would be fortunate to have Mark Herring in office for another four years."
Mark Herring is the first Democrat to serve as attorney general since 1994. If he were to win and complete a third term he would be Virginia's longest-serving attorney general since Abram Penn Staples, who held the post from March 1934 to October 1947.
Herring was among Virginia’s top three statewide officials beset by scandal in February 2019. The attorney general apologized for having worn blackface once as a college student at the University of Virginia.
Four days after Herring called on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over a racist photo on Northam’s medical school yearbook page, the attorney general disclosed in a meeting with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and then in a public statement, that he wore blackface in 1980 at a college party and had felt shame about it for decades.
An aide said late that month that Herring still planned to run for governor in 2021.
Herring, 58, was elected in 2017 to a second consecutive term as attorney general. He topped Republican John Adams after campaigning, in part, on his efforts to eliminate a backlog in testing of rape kits and to reduce sexual and domestic violence.
Herring was town attorney in Lovettsville, in Loudoun County, from 1992 to 1999, then served on the county Board of Supervisors from 2000 to 2003. He won a special election for the state Senate in February 2006 to succeed Republican Bill Mims, who had been named chief deputy attorney general. Mims now serves on the state Supreme Court.
In 2013, Herring beat Fairfax for the Democratic nomination for attorney general by about 4,500 votes. In the general election, Herring edged state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, by 165 votes in a contest that went to a recount.
Just 13 days into his first term as the state’s 48th attorney general, Herring sparked controversy on a national stage when he announced that he deemed Virginia’s 2006 ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He said he wanted Virginia to “be on the right side of history.” (As a state senator, he had supported the state’s ban on gay marriage.)
A month later, in Norfolk, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the state’s ban violated the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In January 2016, McAuliffe and GOP leaders in the General Assembly announced a bipartisan deal on gun policy that effectively reversed Herring’s move to sever concealed carry reciprocity agreements with over two dozen states.