Outlook: Slight-Lean Democratic
By far the most interesting statewide race of 2013 has been between Mark Obenshain and Mark Herring for Attorney General. Both began the year strongly favored for their party nominations, and both were almost caught by challengers at the end- Obenshain needing an endorsement from Ken Cuccinelli to save him at the GOP convention, and Mark Herring barely pulling out a 51% win in the Democratic primary.
Most political observers expected a stark contrast in this race- while Herring is no liberal, he is left of center in voting patterns in the Senate for sure, while Obenshain is one of the most conservative members of the Virginia Senate- a virtual clone to Cuccinelli when they served together. But that is not the race that happened. Obenshain was able to quickly move and capture the political center and took control of the narrative in this race early on. His deft maneuvering to distance himself from Ken Cuccinelli on a few issues (mostly in terms of style, but a little bit of substance) got widespread coverage and since then the media has been covering him as some sort of GOP maverick compared to Cuccinelli.
Herring's campaign has done the right thing in response- to just hammer Obenshain on his voting record and try to remind people to look at his votes and bills- not at his rhetoric in the campaign. But while that's the best you can do when someone pulls a dramatic shift in a campaign like this, most voters are not searching legislative records.
There's no question at this point that Obenshain will lead the GOP ticket in votes- perhaps by a substantial margin. But with the recent voter anger over the federal government shutdown blaming Republicans- and the anger in the electorate- that may not be enough for Obenshain. Right now we rate this race- otherwise a pure tossup- as Slight-Lean Democratic because of the political winds. If T-Mac wins by 10%, that's about a 200,000 vote margin- likely too much for Obenshain to overcome in crossover. 100,000 (5% margin) is more doable, as both Bill Bolling and Bob McDonnell can attest from 2005 when they barely won downballot from Tim Kaine. Either way, there is no doubt this will be the last statewide race called on election night.