Democrats expected to retain open AG seats

By Chris Rizo | Oct 30, 2008

Greg Zoeller (R-Ind.)

Chris Koster (D-Mo.)

Steve Bullock (D-Mont.)

Richard Cordray (D-Ohio)

John Kroger (D-Ore.)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Of the five open state attorney general seats up for election Tuesday, Democrats are expected to win all of the races but one -- the one seat currently held by a Republican, polls indicate.

Democratic candidates for attorney general are expected to win in Missouri, Montana and Ohio. In Oregon, where no Republican ran for the seat being vacated by Attorney General Hardy Myers, the Democratic candidate is all but guaranteed a win.

The one open seat where the Republican candidate is favored to win is in Indiana, where Greg Zoeller, the chief deputy to Attorney General Steve Carter is vying to succeed his boss.

Zoeller is running against Democrat Linda Pence, a high-profile Indianapolis attorney. Zoeller leads Pence 30 percent to 24 percent in a recent Howey-Gauge Poll.

Interestingly, Zoeller leads Pence by six points in a state where Republican presidential nominee John McCain leads Democrat Barack Obama by just two points, according to the same poll.

The Howey-Gauge Poll of 600 likely voters was conducted October 23 and 24, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

In the presidential battleground state of Missouri, the AG's race has turned especially colorful since the Democratic candidate's ex-wife and her family has been pouring money into efforts to defeat him.

Democrat Chris Koster's ex-wife and her family have given big bucks to his opponent. During the Democratic primary, Rebecca Nassikas donated $200,000 to a group that produced an ad critical of her ex-husband's candidacy.

Then, in Koster's race against Republican Mike Gibbons, she and her family have given at least $240,000, according to campaign finance filings.

In the polls, Koster has a six-point lead over Gibbons, a fellow state senator. A Research 2000 poll for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and television station KMOV shows that Koster leads Gibbons 48 percent to 42 percent.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to get GOP candidates elected to statewide offices, gave Gibbons' general election race a boost by giving his campaign a $1.1 million contribution.

The Missouri attorney general's seat is open this year because Jay Nixon cannot seek a third term as the state's chief legal officer. He is running as the Democratic candidate for governor.

In his race, Nixon leads U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, the Republican nominee for governor, 55 percent to 41 percent, according to the Research 2000 poll.

The poll of 800 likely Missouri voters was conducted Oct. 20-23. The margin of error was not reported.

In Montana, where Attorney General Mike McGrath is running for state Supreme Court chief justice, Democrat Steve Bullock has an eight-point lead over Republican Tim Fox, a poll indicates.

The Montana State University-Billings released Friday shows that among likely voters Bullock leads Fox 45 percent to 37 percent. Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they were undecided.

By comparison, 60 percent of respondents said they plan to vote for Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, with just 27 percent of those polled saying the plan to support his Republican challenger, state Sen. Roy Brown.

Carrie Cantrell, the Republican State Leadership Committee's spokeswoman and director of policy, noted that although the GOP candidates in Missouri and Montana trail in the polls, their races are far from over.

"We expect Missouri and Montana to be very tight races and we still believe there is opportunity for Gibbons and Fox to win both of those races," she told Legal Newsline on Thursday.

In Ohio a special AG election is being held since Democratic former Attorney General Marc Dann left office in the middle of his term amid a sexual harassment scandal.

Democratic state Treasurer Richard Cordray, Republican former U.S. Attorney Mike Crites and non-affiliated candidate attorney Robert Owens are vying to complete the two years remaining on Dann's term.

In the state where Obama leads McCain by four points -- 49 percent to 45 percent with 6 percent undecided -- the Democratic candidate for attorney general has a resounding 24-point lead over the Republican in the race.

The Opinion Consultants poll conducted last week has Cordray leading Crites 54 percent to 30 percent. The poll of 800 Ohio voters has a margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.

But a separate poll by SurveyUSA had Cordray leading Crites by just 13, down from a 16-point advantage two weeks ago. Independent Robert Owens had 8 percent support, while 9 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The poll released this week surveyed 648 likely and actual voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.9 percent.

Oregon has perhaps the least watched attorney general race in the nation since the Democratic candidate has no Republican opponent.

Law professor and former federal prosecutor John Kroger, who has never held public office, handily beat out a veteran state lawmaker in a hard fought Democratic primary.

In the Republican primary, Kroger won 13,043 write-in votes,also officially making him the GOP nominee. State law requires candidates to only run on one ticket during the general election.

His only opponent on Tuesday is Constitution Party nominee James Leuenberger, who gained some notoriety by defending a Southern Oregon teacher who was denied permission to bring her semi-automatic handgun to work to work so she could protect herself from her allegedly abusive ex-husband.

In all, 11 states are holding elections for attorneys general Tuesday. Of those contests, the Republican State Leadership Committee said it considers about half of them winnable or at least competitive for Republican candidates.

The RSLC has said it hopes to increase the number of Republican attorneys general from the current 19.

Currently, Democrats lead with 31 attorneys general. Of AGs who are elected rather than appointed, there are 27 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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