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With razor thin margin, Virginia’s AG race likely headed for recount

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Posted at 7:59 PM, Nov 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-06 19:59:07-05

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While Democrats won Virginia's two top elected offices on Tuesday night, by Wednesday afternoon, the state's race for attorney general appeared to be headed for a recount.

With 100% of precincts reporting as of Wednesday afternoon, Republican state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain has a razor thin 286-vote lead over Democrat state Sen. Mark Herring.

With such a thin margin, a recount in the race is a near certainty. While there are no automatic recounts in Virginia, any candidate that loses by less than 1% is allowed to petition the State Board of Elections for a recount.

The current unofficial total, according to the board, has Obenshain leading Herring by .05%.

"The race is far from over," Herring told reporters on Tuesday night.

"The commonwealth has a process to make sure all the votes are counted and we are going to make sure we go through that process," he said. "Right now it is basically 50-50 and the numbers have been moving in our direction all night."

But the recount process will not be a quick one, according to elections board spokesman Nikki Sheridan.

The earliest the process could begin would be November 25, after local electoral boards certify their results and the state board finishes counting ballots from people who either voted at the wrong precinct or did not present satisfactory identification.

Some of those ballots -- known as provisional -- may not even be counted unless the person who voted but failed to show correct identification does so by noon on Friday, November 9.

The rules on what can and can't be considered during a recount are also strict. While the losing candidate can't challenge absentee and provisional ballots ruled invalid or the eligibility of any voter, they can challenge whether votes were tallied correctly for standard ballots.

Much like Tuesday's other statewide races in Virginia, the contests focused on a combination of national issues and character attacks. Obenshain attempted to paint Herring as a Democratic politician bent on taking away gun rights and taxing "your freedom away." The National Rifle Association backed Obenshain and ran ads in the race.

Herring, on the other hand, attempted to tie Obenshain to the now-defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. Herring ads continually linked the two together, playing off of fears that Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, was too far right on social issues for the purple state of Virginia.

"Like Cuccinelli, Obenshain believes politicians should dictate our most personal decisions," one ad with a female narrator said. "They co-sponsored a bill together to ban the birth control pill, and outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. Cuccinelli and Obenshain: Together - a dangerously wrong turn for Virginia."

In the last 25 years, two high profile Virginia races have gone to a recount because of their tight margins.

Democrat Douglas Wilder, in 1989, lead Republican Marshall Coleman, by 6,854 votes in the race for the commonwealth's governors mansion. Coleman called for a recount and while the process reduced Wilder's lead by 113 votes, it came nowhere close to changing the election result.

More recently, in 2005, Republican Bob McDonnell held a slimmer 323 votes margin over Democrat Craig Deeds in the Old Dominion's attorney general race. While Deeds called a recount, the process actually increased Mc Donnell's lead by 37 votes and he was declared the winner.

Sheridan with the state's election board pointed out in an email that both those recounts occurred on December 21.