Although the process to confirm Sen. Mark Herring’s (D-Dist. 33) narrow victory in the race for Virginia attorney general is still ongoing, the campaign to fill his seat is already in full swing.
Democrats are planning a so-called “firehouse primary” this Saturday to select their nominee. Republicans have not yet named a candidate for the seat.
The State Board of Elections has not yet certified the results of the election and canvass process. The board has until Nov. 25 to do so, at which point the losing candidate can request a recount.
Currently, Herring leads Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain (Dist. 26) by 165 votes.
Jennifer Wexton, an attorney from Leesburg, and Herndon Town Councilwoman Sheila Olem will be vying for the Democratic Party nomination on Saturday.
Olem said she has long been interested in running for state office, but didn’t want to pursue it when her children were young.
In the mid-1990s, Olem said she worked with the local delegate and state senator at the time to change a state law that was causing hardship for her family, following her husband’s death in a small plane crash in Bolivia.
“Over the years, when people have had issues [with state government], they have come to me,” she said.
Wexton, a former county prosecutor now in private practice, said she has remained active in public service since her time as a commonwealth’s attorney in the early 2000s. She ran for the elected position of commonwealth’s attorney in 2011, losing to Jim Plowman.
Herring “did such a terrific job of really serving the needs of his constituents” while avoiding partisan battles, Wexton said. She says she would continue the senator’s approach.
Education and transportation are listed among the top legislative priorities of both candidates.
Wexton said she believes the state needs increased participation in early childhood education programs and would like to strengthen the state’s science and math curricula.
“I believe that education is an investment in our economic future,” she said.
Olem’s top area of focus, and one in which she has significant background, is the completion of the Silver Line and the redevelopment and land use issues surrounding that project. Olem served on the Dulles Toll Road Task Force and has worked on rail-related issues on the Herndon Town Council.
While land use is a local issue, there are funding and policy issues that will involve the General Assembly, she said.
“The development is going to happen over three or for decades, but it will be the biggest thing that is going to happen to this western part of Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun County,” Olem said.
Wexton said her focus is on supporting transportation projects that benefit families and commuters in the region, not allow for additional development.
“I would work for projects that ease congestion, rather than put more cars on the roads,” she said.
Women’s health issues are also a big priority for Olem, whose professional background is in health administration. She has worked as an independent sales associate for the insurance company Aflac since 2001.
“I definitely don’t support a lot of the things that have gone on,” she said, referring to attempts in recent years to place additional restrictions on abortion access. “I hope we won’t lose this seat to someone who will support those things.”
Democrats will vote at three locations on Saturday to determine which candidate will run in the special election, if Herring is ultimately certified as the victor in the attorney general’s race. A date for a special election has not been set.