Was Mark Herring move best for Virginia Democrats in 2017?

Democrat vs. Republican on whiteThe reaction to the announcement from Mark Herring this week that the sitting attorney general plans to run for re-election was met with excitement and relief by fellow Virginia Democrats, who feel the move will forestall a bloodbath between Herring and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam for the 2017 gubernatorial nomination.

While that might be good news, that Democrats can move forward toward 2017 behind a unified front, it could very well be the case that they’re backing the wrong guy.

No disrespect toward Northam, but he’s not exactly a known entity among even Virginia Democrats. A poll released in July by Public Policy Polling had Northam’s name recognition among Democratic voters at 37 percent, and also had Northam trailing Herring 33 percent-9 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup with Herring for the nomination.

Those numbers are irrelevant now, at least as far as the nomination is concerned, but the hypothetical head-to-head matchups with potential top Republican candidates for governor are very much in play, and that PPP poll had Northam trailing the entirety of the GOP, by as much as seven points.

The challenge for Northam over the next 18 months will be figuring out how to marshal the limited resources of a part-time public office to boost his profile as the Republican Party pours money into the likes of Ed Gillespie, Mark Obenshain or Ken Cuccinelli.

Herring, as attorney general, leading a high-profile, very active public office, wouldn’t have had issue raising his profile, which is probably why it is that the last six elected AGs have ended up running for governor, with two, Jim Gilmore in 1997 and Bob McDonnell in 2009, getting elected.

Time will tell if the move by Herring to sidestep an intraparty battle will work out for the Democratic Party ticket in 2017. History and current data seem to suggest that it won’t.

– Analysis by Chris Graham

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