The long road to a possible victory in the race for Virginia’s attorney general began when Mark D. Obenshain was a teenager.
The son of Virginia Republican stalwart Richard Obenshain, Mark was used to political discussions around the dinner table. His father served as the state party’s chairman for four years and then went on to be co-chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The younger Mr. Obenshain has served as a member of the state Senate since 2004, representing Harrisonburg and some of the surrounding countryside. With Democrats winning races for governor and lieutenant governor Tuesday, it looked as if Mr. Obenshain might be the only bright spot for Virginia Republicans — the lone member of the GOP to hold a statewide elected office.
A close election for attorney general has sparked a recount that analysts say likely won’t be settled until the end of the month at the earliest. The day after ballots were cast, the Virginia Board of Elections showed preliminary results fluctuating. By 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mr. Obenshain trailed his Democratic opponent, Mark R. Herring, by 32 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast.
“Right now, the race is extremely close, but I’m confident that we will prevail,” Mr. Obenshain told supporters Wednesday morning. “Elections like this are a reminder of the importance of participating in the democratic process.”
The Republican said he ran on a platform of improving safety and maintaining personal liberty — ideals he attributes to his father.
Thirty-five years ago, the elder Mr. Obenshain was the state’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate and was widely expected to win the general election.
But on Aug. 2, 1978, when Mark was 16, his father was killed in a plane crash while returning from a campaign event.
In the wake of the tragedy, Republicans turned to John W. Warner, a former secretary of the Navy who went on to win the general election. Helen Obenshain was left to raise her son and his sisters by herself.
Mr. Obenshain said the family eventually found a note his father had written.
“The most important goal in my life,” it read, “is to have a meaningful impact on preserving — and expanding — the realm of personal freedom in the life of this nation.”
Mr. Obenshain said he adopted the goal as his own and took it as motivation to become a leader on property rights, school choice, family values, public safety and government reform, his campaign website states.
He is the chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee, which oversees campaign finance law, voter registration and the governor’s appointments to government positions.
His sister, Kate Obenshain, was the first woman to head the Virginia Republican Party. She was a political appointee of Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Gov. George Allen and served as Mr. Allen’s chief of staff.
But Mr. Obenshain might be most recognizable to some voters thanks to his daughter, Tucker, who starred in a series of personable TV campaign commercials about how “my dad” would be the best choice for Virginia.
He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1984 and from the Washington and Lee University School of Law three years later, according to his official legislative biography. Mr. Obenshain then co-founded a law firm before becoming involved in state politics.
He and Mr. Herring are competing for the seat being vacated by Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who lost in his bid for governor.
Some Republican strategists and supporters have touted Mr. Obenshain as a possible candidate for governor in 2017. But Mr. Obenshain instead is hoping for a term as the state’s top law enforcement official.
“In my ten years in the Senate, I have worked for lower taxes, safer communities and a more limited government,” Mr. Obenshain wrote in a campaign email Wednesday morning. “As your next Attorney General, I will continue to fight to make sure that Virginia is a beacon of freedom and opportunity.”
He encouraged supporters to remain optimistic despite the recount.
“We have long hours ahead of us, but I shall always be immensely grateful for your support,” Mr. Obenshain wrote. “We ran a campaign based on a positive plan to solve problems in Virginia, and I’m proud of that.”