Ten who would've preferred a landslide

John O'Brien Aug. 13, 2010, 7:00am

Polls show that current state attorneys general like Florida's Bill McCollum (right) and California's Jerry Brown might be chewing their nails on their respective election nights this year. Legal Newsline looks at 10 other current AGs who have already sweated bullets while results rolled in.

Darrell McGraw has been West Virginia's attorney general since 1993, but that doesn't mean his re-election bids have been formalities. It took the closest statewide race in state history for him to fend off Republican challenger Hiram Lewis in 2004, 50.4 percent to 49.6. He won by the same close margin in 2008 against Dan Greear in the general election.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel defeated Democrat Paul Suskie in 2006's primary by 6 percent, but Suskie earned enough votes to force a run-off. More than 171,000 voters turned out, and McDaniel claimed a 50.8-49.2 win before winning the general election by more than 20 percent.

Four candidates earned more than 13 percent of the vote in the 2002 Republican primary in Idaho, and Lawrence Wasden emerged the party's nominee for attorney general. He faced a stiff challenge from Michael Bogert, winning by less than 2 percent -- 32.2-30.5. Like McDaniel, Wasden won the general election easily and in 2006 barely broke a sweat in the primary and general elections.

Greg Zoeller had all the credentials to become Indiana's attorney general in 2008, having served as chief deputy under Steve Carter. Still, Democrat Linda Pence, a prominent attorney who once worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, posed a serious threat. Zoeller managed to top Pence by 1.4 percent, with more than 2,500,000 Indianans voting.

Jack Conway had no trouble becoming Kentucky's attorney general in 2007, winning his primary and general elections by a combined 64 percent. So it stood to reason the popular politician should try his hand in a bigger race, and he declared his candidacy for this year's U.S. Senate election. He defeated Daniel Mongiardo, the state's lieutenant governor, by just eight-tenths of a percent to advance to the general election against Rand Paul.

Mike Cox became Michigan's first Republican attorney general in 48 years with his win in 2002. Of course, overturning that much history was not easy. More than 3 million voters chose between him and Democrat Gary Peters, and Cox won by a margin of less than 5,000 votes. He can thank Kent County (its county seat is Grand Rapids), because he won the county by almost 52,000 votes.

One newspaper wondered if Chris Koster planted a female candidate among those in the 2008 Democratic attorney general primary to steal votes from his main opponent, Margaret Donnelly. If he did, it worked. Koster beat Donnelly 34.3-34.1, with Williams, an eighth-grade teacher, earning 6.7 percent.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson took office in 1994, but decided to run for governor this year. His war story, unlike the others on this list, ended in disappointment. Jari Askins, the state's lieutenant governor, gained 50.3 percent to Edmondson's 49.7 in the Democratic primary. Because the AG race in Oklahoma was also this year, Edmondson could not run and will leave the office.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett had an easy time in this year's Republican primary for governor, but six years ago he became AG with a narrow win over Jim Eisenhower. More than 5,400,000 Pennsylvanians voted, and Corbett earned 50.4 percent to Eisenhower's 48.4 percent. The Associated Press initially called it as an Eisenhower victory.

Nine-thousand votes separated Republican J.B. Van Hollen and his 2006 general election opponent Kathleen Falk, who had defeated incumbent Peg Lautenschlager in the primary. Van Hollen had 50.2 percent of the more than 2 million votes, and he is running for re-election this year. His opponent is attorney Scott Hassett.

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