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Herring continues to pay off campaign debt

(AP) Attorney General Mark Herring is still paying off campaign debt related to last year’s recount effort, while his political spending after nearly a year in office outpaces those of other possible 2017 gubernatorial candidates.

Herring listed debts of more than $365,000 with the law firm Perkins Coie, which helped Herring’s recount effort, on a campaign finance report filed in July. The attorney general continues chipping away at the debt, according to aide Ellen Qualls. She declined to say what the current debt amount is.

Since February, a month after he was sworn in, Herring has spent more than $110,000 on political consultants and staff for his political action committee, campaign finance records show. Qualls said much of that spending has gone to fundraising consultants who are working to pay off Herring’s recount-related debt.

Herring defeated state Sen. Mark Obenshain last year in the closest statewide race in modern Virginia political history that wasn’t settled until after a recount.

Qualls said besides fundraising, consultants and PAC staff have been paid to help “maintain political relationships around Virginia” and support Herring, both in person and online, when he campaigns for other Virginia Democrats.

Herring is widely viewed as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2017. Attorneys general almost always run for governor in Virginia, a state that doesn’t allow its chief executives to serve consecutive terms.

When former Gov. Bob McDonnell testified at his corruption trial this summer, he said he began planning for his gubernatorial bid less than a year after he was sworn in as the attorney general. McDonnell said such preparation was necessary to be successful in a statewide race in Virginia.

“You only get really one chance at doing this, and if I’m going to do it, I wanted to be prepared and do it right,” McDonnell said.

Herring hasn’t said yet whether he’ll run for governor. But he has made a series of headline-grabbing moves early in his tenure that include advocating to legalize gay marriage and declaring students who entered the county illegally eligible to receive in-state college tuition rates.

Qualls said Herring will continue to have a “healthy political operation” whether he runs for re-election as attorney general, runs for governor, runs for something else or just works to support other candidates and causes.

“Folks who care deeply about issues and politics don’t just care in November,” she said. “They care all year, and want to be engaged with the people they worked so hard to elect.”

Other state officials mentioned as possible gubernatorial contenders have raised much less than the $550,000 total Herring has raised in 2014 through his various political accounts and the $523,000 he has spent, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money-in-politics.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has raised $228,000 and spent nearly $290,000. Obenshain has raised $60,000 and spent $158,000.

— ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press

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