Our First Look: Virginia Attorney General 2021

In 2013, then-State Senator Mark Herring of Loudoun won the open race to become Virginia’s next Attorney General by just 907 votes out of 2.2 million. A few months prior, Herring beat a former Assistant United States Attorney in the Democratic primary, Justin Fairfax, who would become Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor in 2018.

Deciding against a run for Governor in 2017 to make way for Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Herring ran for re-election instead and won by 7 points.

Though Herring has been a force in Virginia politics for several years now, he is seen as damaged goods by many Virginia Democrats. Herring, who admitted that he had worn blackface at a party when he was 19 to imitate one of his favorite rappers, has little support from his own party, as you can see by the map of endorsements in the General Assembly below.

But at the end of the day, it’s not the will of the party that matters the most for him, it’s the voters in the June Democratic primary. Herring is facing a challenge from Delegate Jay Jones of Norfolk, one of the youngest members of the Black Caucus in the General Assembly.

Herring still starts out as an overwhelming favorite in the primary though given his immense name recognition after being elected statewide twice and the work he’s done in his position. However, after the death of George Floyd, black candidates have had many major overperformances in Democratic primaries. The most notable of this trend in 2020 was Marquita Bradshaw (D) beating the DSCC’s preferred white candidate for the race to become Tennessee’s next Senator.

If the trend of black candidates being preferred by Democratic primary voters continues, just as women were preferred candidates in these primaries in the first half of the Trump presidency, Jones will win, possibly quite comfortably.

On the Republican side, it is likely that Delegate Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach will be the Virginia GOP’s nominee. The Republicans will decide their nominee at a convention in a few months.

We currently see the race as Lean Democratic. We could possibly see an argument for Tilt Democratic if Herring wins the Democratic nomination given his position as one of the three scandal-plagued incumbents; Virginians may want a fresh face, one not in blackface. Miyares, who overperforms in his reelections compared to his district’s partisan lean, will also be a decent candidate for the Virginia GOP, which is rare for them. Jones may be the best shot for the Democrats to hold the position, but it’s an uphill battle for him to overcome Herring’s incumbency advantage.