Fri04252014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Taking a closer look at the ‘down ticket’ races

They’re sometimes called the down ticket races and refer to the often forgotten, or at the very least sidelined, campaigns for lieutenant governor and attorney general.  If asked, most Virginians would be hard pressed to name all the contenders.  Some would have a tough time naming any.  Sometimes, as much as I watch these contests with considerable interest, there are times, try as I might, that I get their names mixed up.  But that’s not necessarily the case this year.  It could even be argued, that some of the best talent of this campaign is running for those down ticket slots.

Though most people don’t think about these jobs - we’re usually focused on the top of the ticket - they matter.  Often, the winners of these down ticket races go on to run for Governor four years later.  With a couple of exceptions, it’s usually the way it works.  Bob McDonnell, who won the attorney general’s job in 2005 is the Republican nominee for governor this year.  In 2005, it was then-Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine who was elected governor.  His opponent, Jerry Kilgore, was attorney general.

The lieutenant governor’s job is one of the most nebulous.  As John Dalton, a former governor and lieutenant governor, put it, the job’s primary duty is to check on the governor each morning and make sure he has a pulse.  Outside of that, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the senate. Until recently, the pay was paltry at best, and the number two’s staff consisted of two people.  For years, that suited the state just fine, but recently, the position has taken on more importance.  In a sense, depending on the skills of the lieutenant governor, it’s a bully pulpit, and a great place to get involved in certain important issues.  But the real duties remain rather limited.

The job of attorney general, however, is far more demanding.  The attorney general manages the work of, at last count, 190 attorneys handling everything from arguing cases before the state court of appeals to chasing down cases of corporate malfeasance, and providing guidelines and opinions to the governor and members of the legislature.  It is, unlike being lieutenant governor, a real job.

This year, both races are intense.  In the case of the lieutenant governor the incumbent, Bill Bolling, is running for reelection.  The last time any one wanted the job a second time was when Don Beyer, in 1993, ran for a second term.  Otherwise, it’s a rarity.  Bolling however seemed happy in the job and wasn’t anxious to take on McDonnell for the nomination.  But he is not necessarily coasting his way to a second term.  The Democrats have found a strong candidate in Jody Wagner.  Wagner was the state treasurer under Governor Warner and most recently served as Governor Kaine’s secretary of finance.  She is an attorney with a specialty in finance and bonding.  Given the state’s extreme financial woes, and her deep understanding of how government finance works, she is a strong candidate.  Bolling, while no slouch, doesn’t have much to show for his term.  He was a conservative activist in the legislature, but now as lieutenant governor, just seems to like the job. 

The attorney general’s race pits a longtime legislative conservative lion, Ken Cuccinelli against a former prosecutor and member of the legislature, Steve Shannon.  Cuccinelli has never worked as a prosecutor, but he is a passionate politician, and he does have an agenda.  He also has a strong following.  But Shannon seems to bring a little more to the table than Cuccinelli.  In his earnest, rather passionate way, he really understands what the job is about.  He was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County under the famous Bob Horan and as the result has a vision for what he wants the office to become.

As I said, most people don’t follow these races.  The candidates campaign in relative obscurity and with next to no money.  Sometimes voters don’t even make up their minds until they get in the ballot booth.  But this year, there is some good talent running, and they warrant a closer look.

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