Following up on my analysis on how a convention process affects all current and potential RPV candidates for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, we now turn our attention to how a convention process affects RPV candidates for Attorney General. There are currently three candidates officially vying for the nomination. These people are Rob Bell (R – Charlottesville), Mark Obenshain (R – Harrisonburg), and John Frey (R – Fairfax).
Rob Bell has stormed out the gate in fundraising with $604,127 cash on hand. Bell is a Delegate from Charlottesville, but he has strong Northern Virginia connections. He has used this to his advantage and has made deep inroads with the wealthy Northern Virginia electorate.
Bell is an aggressive campaigner and he wants this job bad. Bell can be seen furiously taking notes about the people he interacts with on the campaign trail. At the ceremonial inauguration ceremonies for freshman Members of the Virginia General Assembly this year, Bell sat near the rear with his head down during the speeches addressing thank you notes to the entire guest list. Bell was at an event for one of my clients back in July 2011 and I received a handwritten thank you note from Bell a few months later in the mail.
Bell’s criminal law surveys passed out at every event in 2011 were a convenient way to gather voter contact information for his campaign. In 2011, Bell worked on several initiatives on crime reduction and had them successfully passed as a prelude to his campaign for Attorney General. By the appearance of his messaging strategy, Bell will run on a platform of competence and crime fighting.
Mark Obenshain is playing catch-up to Rob Bell. His fundraising numbers are very far behind Bell despite his well known conservative record and family legacy. Obenshain benefits the most from a convention. A convention diminishes the impact of Rob Bell’s fundraising prowess and allows Obenshain to be competitive among the party faithful. Many of the party stalwarts have long memories of the Obenshain family contributions to the modern day RPV. They might vote for Obenshain based on sentimentality as much as principles.
Obenshain has travelled the Commonwealth as a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and as a candidate for Attorney General himself supporting other candidates in 2011. However, he does not appear to want the position of Attorney General as badly and urgently as Rob Bell. Obenshain has said it himself. Obenshain has said that he does not fear losing an election, that he stands on principles, and that opponents would actually be doing him a favor by sending him home to spend more time with his family.
While Obenshain won’t be sent home from the Senate of Virginia if he loses the nomination for Attorney General, he continues to work hard on his campaign and appears to have chosen a more frugal grassroots approach. He does not seem like he is ready to take out a second mortgage in an attempt to garner political power. It is commendable that despite having a powerful family name, Obenshain’s life, livelihood, and self-worth does not depend on a career in elective office. Obenshain’s campaign will contrast with Bell’s campaign as one that advocates conservative principles.
John Frey’s foray into statewide politics has been a head scratcher for many observers. While a Chairman of a county as large as Fairfax can reasonably run statewide, it is quite a leap for the Fairfax County Clerk of the Court to run statewide without a lot of money, high name identification, or a solid grassroots infrastructure in place. Frey has been successful in establishing a base of support in Northern Virginia to make a respectable showing against Bell and Obenshain, however. Frey will hold a fundraiser for his Attorney General campaign soon and the host committee includes some well known and well respected current and former public officials, though critics will charge that this list reeks of “moderate establishment”. The flyer is attached below for readers to evaluate.
Could the 2013 RPV Attorney General race shape up to be a redux of the 2009 race?
Rob Bell = John Brownlee
Mark Obenshain = Ken Cuccinelli
John Frey = Dave Foster