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Republicans will decide this weekend who will represent the party in this fall’s race for attorney general.

Both candidates are veteran state legislators with legal backgrounds.

Del. Rob Bell is a former prosecutor who has represented the Charlottesville area in the House of Delegates since 2002, although he notes that he is a Northern Virginia native, growing up in Springfield.

Sen. Mark Obenshain has a private law practice and has served in the state Senate since 2003, representing the Harrisonburg area.

The two contenders have political similarities, both citing federal government overreach as a top reason they chose to run for attorney general this year.

“What we have seen over the last four years is a real need for an attorney general who is prepared to stand up for Virginia in terms of federalism,” Bell said.

Obenshain, who said he has worked on constitutional law cases in the past, also said the state needs to be prepared to fight federal actions in court, like current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did with the federal health care law and certain EPA regulations.

“Right now, these are the great fights of our generation that are being fought,” Obenshain said.

Bell and Obenshain have focused, in part, on issues of criminal law during their years in the legisltature and say they would continue those priorities in the office of attorney general.

They both indicate strengthening the state’s laws and intervention efforts in human trafficking would be a top priority if they are elected.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in America,” Obenshain said.

Bell is interested in exploring ways of “separating the evil from the knuckleheads” in criminal cases.

For example, he is interested in pursuing a new approach to probation violation cases that has been used in Hawaii and is now being piloted in Virginia. The goal is to get people who violate probation back in front of a judge within days, rather than the weeks or months it normally takes.

In Hawaii, they have found that giving people short jail sentences right after they are found violating their probation conditions has reduced the number of repeat offenders, Bell said.

“It gets them going in the right direction,” he said.

Raising awareness about another growing problem, elder abuse, is an item on Obenshain’s priority list. Elder abuse ranges from financial fraud to physical abuse, he said.

“We have to make sure that we are promoting public awareness of the risks and hazards of elder abuse,” he said. “We need to make sure that our law enforcement community has the tools needed. … To the extent that our laws are inadequate, we need to amend them.”

Republican delegates will gather at the state party’s nominating convention on Saturday to select candidates for attorney general and lieutenant governor. Cuccinelli is the sole Republican candidate for governor.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com