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Democrat Mark Herring wins second term as Virginia attorney general

In this Wednesday Oct. 4, 2017 photo, Virginia Attorney Gen. Mark Herring talks with University of Richmond students prior to the screening of a film on campus sexual assault at the school in Richmond, Va. With the race between Herring and Republican John Adams the only attorney general election in the country this November, it's drawn national attention and an influx of money. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Democratic incumbent Mark Herring won a second term as Virginia's attorney general Tuesday, beating back a challenge from Republican John Adams.

During the campaign, Herring was sharply criticized by Adams for his refusal to defend Virginia's 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Herring said his position was vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling striking down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional. Herring portrayed Adams as a staunch conservative who was out of step with most Virginians on social issues, including same-sex marriage, women's access to contraception and gun control.

With the race between Herring and Adams the only attorney general contest in the country this year, the election drew national interest.

Herring said his victory and a wide-ranging Democratic win in Virginia "sent a message that will be heard across this country and around the world."

"We have rejected the politics of fear and division," Herring told supporters at a Democratic victory celebration, in an apparent reference to Republican President Donald Trump's election a year ago.

In a news release, Herring said Virginia voters "looked at the results of 2016 and said we need to set the ship right."

"Tonight, Virginians said, `This is the way back,' "Herring said.

Adams conceded the race to Herring just before 9 p.m.

"The ideas that we stand for are timeless. There are bumps in the road. But the road continues," Adams said in a speech to supporters.

During the campaign, Herring touted his work to ease the opioid overdose crisis, pushing for law enforcement officers around the state to carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and for passage of a Good Samaritan law that protects those who call to report an overdose. He also focused on his efforts to reduce a backlog of untested sexual assault kits.

Adams, a former federal prosecutor making his first run for political office, repeatedly slammed Herring for failing to defend the state's ban on gay marriage. Herring supported the ban as a state senator, but said he had a change of heart as the state's attorney general.

Adams, 44, called Herring's switch a political calculation and said the state's attorney general should defend the state's laws, no matter what his personal beliefs.

"That is an unbelievable position for a lawyer to take," Adams said during the second of two debates. "He got on the other side and sued his own client."

Herring said his position was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional.

"It was the right thing to do," he said.

Herring, 56, began his political career by serving on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in northern Virginia, where he was raised. He served as a state senator for eight years before winning the attorney general's election in 2013 by less than 1,000 votes out of more than 2.2 million.

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