Trailing by 164 votes in the race for Virginia attorney general, Republican Mark Obenshain met reporters in Richmond Wednesday and announced his transition team just hours after Democrat Mark Herring announced his own transition team.
Herring declared himself Virginia's next attorney general Tuesday night after local election boards certified results from the Nov. 5 general election, and Obenshain called that move premature, noting that the State Board of Elections won't certify Virginia's voting until Nov. 25 and the razor-thin margin could change after that.
Obenshain also did not rule out a legal challenge. He said he would decide after the state's certification whether to seek a recount.
"Transitions are about new beginnings, and this transition will be a return to fundamentals," Herring said in a statement Wednesday morning, after counting provisional ballots in Fairfax late Tuesday put him ever so slightly in the lead. "We will get back to putting ideology and partisanship aside, and putting the law and Virginians first."
If the 164-vote margin between the candidates holds up -- and it has changed several times, most recently adding one vote to Herring's lead Wednesday morning -- this would be the closest race in Virginia history. About 2.2 million votes were cast on Election Day in the commonwealth.
The previous closest race was in 2005, when Bob McDonnell won the race for attorney general by just 323 votes over his Democratic opponent.
"This is historic," Secretary of the Electoral Board in Fairfax County Brian Schoeneman said. "We've never seen a race this close, not in my memory in Virginia, so the pressure was on us to make sure we got it right which is why we took the extra time."
Obenshain is far from giving up the fight.
"We have seen significant swings in the vote count over the last several days as errors are corrected as a part of the regular canvass process,'' Obenshain said. "The State Board of Elections will now conduct its own review and we will await their results.''
Monday evening, Herring had a 117-vote lead over Obenshain, with 1,103,610 votes cast for Herring and 1,103,493 for Obenshain. The Republican had started Monday day with a 17-vote lead.
The lead change came after the Richmond Electoral Board conducted its canvass and discovered totals from one voting machine had not been counted.
Provisional ballots are used when problems are discovered with a voter's registration status or if it appears they have already cast an absentee ballot. Monday, dozens of Fairfax County voters used their Veteran's Day holiday to come before the electoral board to personally defend their provisional ballot.
Herndon resident Richard Bensinger came to the Government Center armed with evidence -- a driver's license, conceal carry permit and work tax documents.
Bensinger said when he arrived at his polling place Nov. 5, election officials told him his name had been purged from the rolls because a crosscheck showed he was a Florida voter. Bensinger said he's never lived in Florida and he cast a provisional ballot for the Democratic ticket. He left the electoral board confident his ballot wound be counted.
"The fact that I went through a weird circumstance is a pain in the butt," said Bensinger. "I'm a veteran. I was looking forward to doing Veteran's Day things today, but voting is the best thing about being a veteran, so this was important to me."
Other provisional ballot voters were relishing the attention from both Democrat and Republican Party activists who made phone calls and home visits urging them to to before the electoral board.
"I was at work yesterday and got a text from my dad saying I was one of the most popular people in Fairfax County," said 22-year-old Antonia Paris. "Apparently we'd gotten tons and tons of calls on my home phone saying I needed to come in because my vote was provisional and needed to be verified I am who I am."
Paris said it was exciting to know her vote might be a deciding factor in the attorney general's race.
"It's cool. I like to be able to say I did my part and did everything I could to make sure my vote counted," Paris said.
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