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Democratic AG Candidates Herring, Jones Debate Ahead of Primary

AG Candidates
Attorney General Mark Herring (Left) debated challenger Jay Jones (Right) leading up to the Democratic primary for attorney general. (FILE PHOTOS: Crixell Matthews)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring debated challenger Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) Wednesday night, during a televised forum in Arlington.

The two differ little on policy positions. Both support progressive criminal justice and police reforms, gun control measures, abortion rights and greater equity for communities of color. 

Jones has the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam, who said Jones understands the deep scars of racism in the commonwealth. Jones said at Wednesday’s debate that his commitment to civil rights is unflinching. If elected, Jones would be Virginia’s first Black attorney general. 

“I think it is incredibly powerful for Virginia to understand what is at stake; to have a voice that looks like communities that have been oppressed for so long,” Jones said.

As attorney general, Jones said he wants to highlight communities that have been left out and left behind in all areas, including healthcare. 

“In particular Black women who have had challenges as it relates to Black maternal health and access to health care, generally,”Jones said.

Jones accused Herring of being reactive rather than proactive, especially on police misconduct and civil rights.  “We wouldn't wait for other people to call for answers,” Jones said. “This is about rising to meet the moment.”

Herring, who was elected in 2013, said he has risen to the moment and been on the forefront of issues. 

“Two years ago, nobody was talking about legalizing marijuana, but I knew it was the largest on ramp into the criminal justice system for Black Virginians. And it had to stop,” Herring said. “So I called for the legalization of possession of marijuana, and started to build the momentum. And now we're there.”

And Herring said he has a strong track record on fighting hate and bigotry in the state. 

“I have won landmark lawsuits, to keep Confederate symbols off of the state license plates, and out of our public squares,” Herring said. “It's why I fought back against dangerous white supremacy, and also got new tools in order to combat it, and combat hate crimes.”

A recent poll from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University has Herring leading Jones 42% to 18%, with 34% undecided. Jones has gained support since the Wason Center’s February poll, which had Herring leading Jones by 39%, with 50% undecided. 

Four Republicans are vying for the seat. They include Leslie Haley, a member of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors; Virginia Beach Del. Jason Miyares, Chuck Smith, a former head of the Virginia Beach GOP; and Jack White, an attorney in Tysons Corner and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. 

Republicans will choose their candidate in a convention on Saturday. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.