- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain announced Monday that he will not be running for governor in 2017, clearing the way for a potential run by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Obenshain, who narrowly lost the state attorney general election in 2013 and was widely viewed as a possible GOP gubernatorial candidate, said he plans to remain in the state senate.

“Although I’m not running for (governor), I’m not going anywhere,” Obenshain said in a tweet.

Obenshain’s decision makes it easier for Gillespie to pursue a gubernatorial bid. Gillespie and Obenshain are close allies and it was unlikely they would have squared off for the nomination.

In a statement, Gillespie said Obenshain is “one of the finest public servants I know.”

“Had he decided to run for governor, I would have proudly worked hard to get him elected,” Gillespie said. He did not say whether he plans to run for governor himself.

A former lobbyist and adviser to President George W. Bush., Gillespie defied expectations last year by almost knocking off Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in a Senate contest.

Gillespie has remained active in state political circles since his defeat. He’s routinely headlined fundraisers and other events for legislative and local office candidates.

Other potential GOP candidates for governor include U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Nick Collette, a political director for Obenshain, said Monday that his boss has made a decision not to run in order to focus on his senate service and growing his private law practice.

“Just a personal decision that he came to on his own,” Collette said.

Obenshain is the son of Richard Obenshain, who was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 1978 when he was killed in an airplane crash.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is widely viewed as the likely gubernatorial nominee. Democrats avoided an intense primary earlier this month when Attorney General Mark Herring announced he will seek another four-year term as the state’s top attorney rather than pursue the governor’s mansion.

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