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GOP candidate for AG concedes amid recount

Mark Obenshain (Buy photo)

By Steve Szkotak
The Associated Press

RICHMOND -- Republican Mark Obenshain conceded the race for Virginia attorney general on Wednesday as Democrat Mark Herring built an insurmountable lead in a recount, giving Democrats a sweep of statewide races for the first time since 1989.

"It's been a long and vigorous campaign but it's over," Obenshain said at a news conference.

Herring, a state senator, will succeed Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who unsuccessfully ran for governor.

Obenshain petitioned for the recount after he trailed by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast Nov. 5. It had been the closest statewide race in modern Virginia political history.

Obenshain, a state senator who represents the Harrisonburg area, conceded on the third day of a statewide recount. He was trailing Herring by 866 votes. The recount was the most extensive in recent history. Legislation passed since the last statewide recount in 2005 increased the number of ballots that had to be reviewed by hand.

The recount was overseen by a three-judge panel that will certify the results. The judges were meeting Wednesday to decide on challenged ballots, but the number of those ballots was far short of what Obenshain would need to close the gap.

Obenshain was the GOP's only hope of avoiding a Democratic sweep of the top three statewide offices after Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe won and state Sen. Ralph Northam was elected lieutenant governor.

The last time there was a Democratic sweep at the top of the ticket was when L. Douglas Wilder topped the party's ticket as governor in 1989.

As attorney general, Herring will supervise more than 400 lawyers and support staff. The position also is historically a stepping stone to a run for governor.

In the campaign, the Loudoun County Democrat sought to portray Obenshain as a Cuccinelli clone, saying the Republican would pursue an extreme social agenda if elected. Herring, unlike those two Republicans, supports abortion rights and gay marriage. He also has been an advocate of tighter gun restrictions.

Obenshain steered away from hot-button social issues, pledging to protect Virginians from child predators, elder abusers and sex traffickers.

Herring will be departing a state Senate that is now evenly divided -- 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.

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