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Should Attorney General Step Down To Run For Governor?

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Opinions are divided as to whether Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli should step down as Virginia's top attorney during his run for governor.

Current Gov. Bob McDonnell stepped down from his position as attorney general when he ran for governor in 2009, as did Jerry Kilgore in 2005; Mark Earley in 2001; Jim Gilmore in 1997; Mary Sue Terry in 1993: and Jerry Baliles in 1985. But that long tradition ends here.

Cuccinelli says he will stay on the job during his campaign.

"I think it's a bad idea in that there may be conflicts of interest," says Toni-Michelle Travis, a political science professor at George Mason University. She says fulfilling the role of attorney general requires a distance from politics that other jobs, such as lieutenant governor, don't.

That may be why Tim Kaine didn't step down from his job as lieutenant governor when he ran for governor in 2005.

"This attorney general has been aggressive in bringing suit against the federal government and other parties, so I think he's viewed slightly differently from Tim Kaine," says Travis.

A number of newspaper editorial boards are calling for Cuccinelli to step down, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Virginian Pilot. But Cuccinelli says he was elected to a four-year term and he intends to fulfill his obligation to voters.

"The idea that attorneys general should resign when they are running for governor strikes me as a quant and outdated relic of old Virginia," says Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

"It doesn't strike me as a problem," he says. "If people think that the attorney general is being too political as he's campaigning for governor, they can take it out on that candidate when they vote for governor."

Although other recent candidates for governor have stepped down from their roles as attorneys general, candidates from earlier days stayed on the job while campaigning for office.

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