Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced Wednesday that he will seek another four-year term as the state's top attorney rather than pursue the governor's mansion, helping to clear a path for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to secure the Democratic nomination in 2017.
Saying he wants to build upon his accomplishments as attorney general, Herring threw his full support behind Northam and pledged to do everything he can to ensure that Northam takes over for Gov. Terry McAuliffe in two years.
"Together, we will keep Virginia moving forward," Herring said.
His decision surprised observers who had been expecting a fierce primary battle between two of the state's top Democrats.
Now the party can focus its fundraising and other campaign efforts on one candidate, a big advantage for Democrats, said Mark Rozell, a policy and government Professor at George Mason University.
"We've all gone and seen internal family feuds and they don't work out very well," said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Herring said he's proud of his work as attorney general, pointing to efforts to reduce campus sexual violence, stem abuse of heroin and prescription drugs and form an ethics policy and gift ban.
"These milestones would not have been reached without the right team exercising the powers and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General, he said. "That means this hard-won progress is as fragile as the next election," Herring said.
Northam said Herring told him Monday of his decision, and that he put no pressure on the attorney general to step aside. Northam said he will keep working to put himself in the best position possible for the race.
"We're just going to continue to do the best job that we can," Northam said,
Serving four more years as attorney general will put Herring in a strong position to be the presumptive nominee for 2021, if he so chooses, Rozell said. Virginia governors are not allowed to serve consecutive terms.
When asked whether he's interested in pursuing the state's top job in the future, Herring said that's a long way off and that he's focused on his work as attorney general.