By Janey Fugate

The attorney general’s race in Virginia remains virtually tied, with fewer than 700 votes separating the two  candidates, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections. A recount is expected.

Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain held a slim lead over Democrat Mark Herring Thursday morning after all the Commonwealth’s 2,558 precincts had reported results.  More than 2.2 million votes were cast, so Obenshain’s lead over Herring was about three one-hundredths of a percentage point.

Virginia election law allows the trailing candidate to demand a recount at the state’s expense if the margin of victory is within one half of a percentage point. If the margin is between one half and one percentage point, the candidate must pay for a recount.

The State Board of Elections won’t meet until Nov. 25 to certify election results. It will be December before the winner of the attorney general’s race is officially determined and a recount can be authorized.

This year’s outcome in the attorney general’s race is not unprecedented in Virginia. In 2005, the attorney general election’s votes were split almost evenly between current Gov. Bob McDonnell, who had a slim lead, and Democrat Creigh Deeds. McDonnell won the vote after a recount that Deeds demanded.

Because Democrats Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam were elected as governor and lieutenant governor on Tuesday, the attorney general’s race is now the Republican Party’s only chance to be represented in any of the top statewide offices for the next four years.  Current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli lost to McAuliffe, and E. W. Jackson was beaten by Northam, a Virginia Military Institute graduate.

The attorney general’s office is traditionally a stepping stone for the governor’s mansion. Washington and Lee University Law Professor Christopher Seaman said that if the Republicans have no representation in the top state offices, “then the Republicans don’t necessarily have a clear front runner who would take that role.”

But Seaman said an Obenshain loss would not necessarily herald the decline of the Republican Party in Virginia or a definite move toward the left, even though Virginia is emerging as a swing state.

“I certainly don’t think this is by any stretch irreparable harm to the Republican party in the long run,” said Seaman. “It’s certainly a short-term blow.”

Seaman says a Democratic sweep could cause “some degree of re-evaluation” in the Republican Party about how its candidates should moderate their stance on social issues.

There has been speculation that outgoing Lt. Gov.  Bill Bolling, a Republican, might have fared better against McAuliffe. Seaman said Bolling is seen as less aggressive on social issues than Cuccinelli.

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