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Republican John Adams, left, is challenging incumbent Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring in Virginia. Photos: Steve Helber / AP

The gubernatorial standoff between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie may be taking national headlines today, but another race worth paying attention to down-ballot pits incumbent Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring against Republican federal prosecutor and military veteran John Adams to be Virginia's attorney general.

Why we're paying attention: Attorneys general across the country, including Herring himself, have been playing a big role in countering Trump's policies this year, in particular the various iterations of the travel ban. And in the last several years, Virginia has been at the center of some national debates, including same sex marriage — his refusal to back Virginia's ban on same sex marriage elevated the issue to the Supreme Court and effectively legalized same sex marriage nationwide.

How the polling plays: Roanoke College had Herring and Adams tied last week 46-46. The Republican Attorneys General Association Communications Director, Zack Roday, told Axios his team wasn't surprised at the tightening poll numbers. "We always knew this could be a close race," Roday said.

The wild card in the race: Whether this is a referendum on Trump. And per the Democratic Attorneys General Association's Executive Director, Sean Rankin, "there are certainly people in Virginia who oppose the president strongly," but "I don't think that accounts for the universe of people who will vote."

How the race is changing the calculus: There's been a shift in spending trends — national organizations for both parties have dropped a "gentleman's agreement" to not spend to unseat an incumbent. It likely won't just be Virginia that takes the gloves off, Rankin tells Axios. He predicts an uptick in spending in 2018 for A.G. races nationwide, which "will be the real trend across the country...whether or not it's a challenge to an incumbent or an open seat." There are 31 A.G. races next year.

Go deeper

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will not seek re-election in 2022

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) speaking during a press conference in November 2021. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), a moderate who typically ranks as one of the nation's most popular governors, said Wednesday that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) will not seek third terms in 2022.

Why it matters: The decision leaves the gubernatorial race wide open and will likely affect multiple down-ballot races next year. Baker was expected to be the front-runner had he joined the race.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.