RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is backing Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (D-Norfolk) to be Virginia’s next attorney general, calling for “a new generation of leaders to take the reins” as the incumbent, Mark Herring, seeks a third term.
Gov. Northam, who can’t run for a second straight term, said in his official endorsement Thursday that Jones gives the commonwealth the new, diverse leadership it needs to move forward. If elected, Jones would become the first African American to hold the office.
“Jay Jones has stood with me every step of the way in our journey to make Virginia a more just and equitable place to live,” the governor’s statement read. “He has been my partner as we have worked to change our Commonwealth. He also understands the deep scars of racism and will represent the diversity of our Commonwealth That is why I’m honored to endorse him in his race for Attorney General.”
Del. Jones said in an interview that the governor’s support is a “major boost” for his campaign and proves that Northam believes in its “energy, passion and vision.”
“I’m humbled. I’ve known him [Northam] for a long time. Since he was a state senator, lieutenant governor,” Jones said Thursday. “We are working on the same common goals.”
Northam’s endorsement carries far more weight than it would have two years ago, when a blackface scandal drove him to limit public appearances and even withdraw from speaking at his alma mater.
The governor was on the verge of being driven out of office after a photo of two people, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, was discovered to be on his medical school yearbook page. An investigation couldn’t conclude whether the governor was in the picture but Northam admitted to wearing blackface for a talent show.
Calls for Northam’s resignation mounted, with Attorney General Herring being one of the many Democrats who believed the governor should have stepped down. Not long after the first scandal, Herring eventually admitted he wore blackface while in college.
Del. Jones called Northam the “most consequential governor” in Virginia’s history in a statement announcing the endorsement.
“He leads with conviction and has ushered in a new era of equity, optimism, and prosperity in this Commonwealth for all Virginians, no matter what you look like or where you come from,” Jones said in a statement. “Simply put, Ralph Northam is the most consequential governor in the history of this Commonwealth.”
Voters will decide between Herring and Jones in the Democratic primary on June 8. Three Republicans are vying for the party’s nomination: Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors member Leslie Haley and Chuck Smith, a lawyer from Virginia Beach.
A recent Wason Center poll found Herring is favored to reclaim his position, but that most voters remain uncertain on several statewide races.
“A contested primary is the sign of a healthy Democratic Party of Virginia — and points to how we’ve been able to demonstrate the power of the office of Attorney General to make a difference for the people,” Herring’s campaign said in a statement after Northam’s announcement.
It remains unclear what Northam’s endorsement will do for Jones in the June primary. Rich Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said early endorsements don’t necessarily translate to votes.
“It’s not about voters. It’s about donors, it’s about who is viable in the Democratic Party,” Meagher said.