Democrats face 'complicated' AG races in 2010

By Chris Rizo | Aug 13, 2009

Doug Gansler (D-Md.)

Dustin McDaniel (D-Ark.)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The ranks of Democratic state attorneys general could shrink after the 2010 elections, party leaders and political analysts told Legal Newsline.

In all, 30 states hold elections for their attorney general next year. Among incumbent AGs, at least 17 are running for other office, including governor and U.S. senator, next year.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, said it is not widely expected that Democrats will gain more AG seats than they have now, particularly given that the party has swept the last two election cycles.

"We've had two huge Democratic cycles in a row -- in 2008 and 2006," Gansler said. "It is unrealistic to think that it's going to continue in perpetuity."

Gansler, who describes himself as a pro-business Democrat, said what could affect some races for state attorney general is President Barack Obama's approval in the respective states.

"The biggest factor in all of this is: What's going to be the macro political scene in 2010?" he said. "In 2010, who knows, the economy could turn around and it could be another huge year for Democrats."

States holding AG elections in 2010 are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Currently, there are 31 Democratic state attorneys general and 19 Republican AGs. Of the races next year, 11 involve states with incumbent Republican AGs and 19 of them involve states with Democratic AGs.

Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University, said while it is too early to know how 2010 AG contests will shape up ultimately, she said she expects races will likely be affected by states' economic pictures.

"So much is contingent on where the economy is and how people feel about their futures," she said.

On whether Democrats will likely lose AG spots, O'Connor said state attorneys general are always at the frontline about how voters feel about crime, perhaps more than other factors, and that could make next year's AG races more complicated for Democrats, including Gansler.

"Democrats tend to win when (voters) think crime is under control and humanity is prevailing," she said, "and that's not the case at the moment. The overall angst over the economy and crime and joblessness make it a more complicated race for Democrats."

In terms of holding on to as many Democratic AG seats as possible in such a busy election cycle, Gansler said DAGA will be forced to concentrate its efforts in competitive races and limit where it puts its money.

"You have to prioritize the races," he said. "There are some races where it is unrealistic to think we're going to win in - in deep red states."

As for DAGA's financial condition going into a busy election cycle, Gansler said he is "comfortable" with the organization's bank balance. He noted that the group has not seen a drop in contributions amid the national recession.

"We've not seen a drop off because of the national economic situation; we've actually been able to expand the number of members at all the different levels," he said. "But we are looking at some 30-odd races, and that takes a lot of money."

DAGA's other co-chair, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, told Legal Newsline that the key to Democrats' wins is floating good candidates.

"My focus is on reelecting Democratic attorneys general and making sure the resources are there to retain open seats and maybe even hunt up a few pick ups like Virginia this year," McDaniel said, referencing the race in Old Dominion, where Democratic Del. Steve Shannon is in a heated race against state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli on traditionally GOP turf.

McDaniel -- who hosted DAGA's spring fundraiser in Little Rock, Ark. -- said the group might have a new fundraising strategy based on his success tapping local groups and businesses for support during the DAGA meeting in his home state.

"One of the things I did in Arkansas is that I solicited local, one-time sponsors who aren't normally interested in AG races in other states but they wanted to be supportive" of the DAGA meeting being held in Little Rock, he said. "We raised a lot of money out of very nontraditional sources."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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