Louis Jacobson is a GOVERNING contributor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Control of the nation's attorney generals' offices is almost evenly matched between the two parties, and our first effort to handicap the state AG races of the 2013-2014 cycle suggests that a hard-fought battle for control is on tap.
Currently, the Democrats control 26 AG offices, compared to 24 for the Republicans. At the same time, among the 43 AG posts directly elected by voters (the remaining seven states have appointed AGs), the GOP has a slight edge over the Democrats, 22 to 21.
Since it is too early to undertake a full handicapping of the 2013-2014 races, we will divide the contests into three broad categories -- one in which the incumbent party is "vulnerable" to losing the seat, another in which the incumbent party is "potentially vulnerable" hhand one in which the incumbent party is "not currently vulnerable."
At this (very early) point in the campaign cycle, we find four AG seats that are vulnerable, another six that are potentially vulnerable and a whopping 21 that are not currently vulnerable. Of the 31 seats that are up for election in 2013-2014, the Republicans will need to defend 17 -- three more than the Democrats. But about two-thirds of these are not currently vulnerable, including such high-profile AGs as California Democrat Kamala Harris, Delaware Democrat Beau Biden and Texas Republican Greg Abbott.
As always in our handicapping, "vulnerability" refers either to the weakness of an incumbent AG's chance of winning reelection, or, if the AG is leaving office, the weakness of the incumbent party's ability to hold the seat after his or her departure. Vulnerability, in our ratings, does not mean an incumbent is at risk of losing a primary contest.
In this article, we'll start with the seats that are not vulnerable. Next week, we'll detail the vulnerable offices. In alphabetical order, the 21 attorney general posts not currently considered vulnerable are:
Since taking office in 2011, Strange has been focused on fighting illegal gambling, an issue that resonates well with his party's Christian conservative base. He's also taken on BP for its role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which has wide appeal in the state. The Democratic bench in Alabama is thin and there's no sign of a Republican revolt, so Strange looks to be in good shape.
It's been hard for Harris to live up to all the hype that followed her election in 2010. Dubbed a rising star by several media outlets (including Governing), Harris has managed to keep the coverage positive despite a thin list of accomplishments. That's all she needs in solidly blue California, however. She will be rock solid for re-election in 2014.
Unlike his predecessors -- former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman and current Sen. Richard Blumenthal -- Jepsen has taken a low-key approach to the office, sticking to such issues as privacy, bank foreclosure practices and utility regulation. Solidly blue Connecticut hasn't had a serious general election race for attorney general in decades. Moreover, the GOP bench in the state is weak, and the Republican Jepsen defeated in 2010 -- Martha Dean -- remains well to the right of most Connecticut voters. Jepsen should win a second term comfortably.
Beau Biden has a magic name for Delaware. Despite losing a few downstate cases early in his term, he's won plaudits for tough prosecutions of sexual predators and pro-consumer efforts. A challenge by any prominent Democrat or Republican is all but inconceivable. And if and when Biden runs for higher office, the Democrats in this blue-trending state should be in a good position to hold the seat.
Olens has charted a conservative course in strongly Republican Georgia and is considered a safe bet for re-election. He is widely thought to have his eyes on higher office.
Wasden, who was first elected in 2002, should have no difficulty winning another term, unless he opts to run for higher office.
Miller has been elected AG eight times by Iowa voters. Possible Republican challengers in the 2014 race include former U.S. attorneys Matt Whitaker and Matt Dummermuth. Regardless of the competition, Miller should be well placed to win again-he won by a surprisingly wide, double-digit margin in the strongly Republican midterm election of 2010.
Schmidt, first elected in 2010, has managed the difficult task of remaining in the good graces of both moderates and conservatives -- the often-warring wings of the Kansas GOP. Schmidt has kept a low profile and does not yet seem to have attracted primary opposition, the key to re-election in a state where Democrats are on the decline.
In this open seat contest, the Democrats have the far deeper bench. State Sen. Brian Frosh, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, is running. Other possible candidates include Del. Jon Cardin, the nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin; Del. Bill Frick; and former U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil. Whoever the nominee turns out to be should be able to hold the seat for the Democrats; at this point, there's not a GOP candidate in sight.
Coakley, despite her high-profile loss to Republican Scott Brown in the 2010 special election to fill the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat, does not seem to be vulnerable in her current position, assuming she runs again. For the state's few Republicans who could make a credible statewide run, an open gubernatorial seat is proving a more attractive prospect.
A Republican hasn't won the Minnesota AG's race in decades, which makes the popular Swanson rock-solid in her bid to win a third term.
Bruning is forgoing a gubernatorial and Senate run; instead, he's expected to run for a fourth term as AG, a contest he should easily win in this solidly Republican state. Bruning served as president of the National Association of Attorneys General in 2009 and 2010.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessors Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo, Schneiderman, elected in 2010, has taken a high-profile role on issues that range from banking and finance to whether the NFL can ask prospects about their intimate relationships. There's no hint of a primary challenge; nor are there early stirrings of a Republican challenger.
Assuming he runs again, Stenehjem, who has won AG elections four times already, will be a lock for a fifth in this solidly Republican state.
DeWine, a former U.S. Senator who won office in 2010, could be classified as potentially vulnerable on the basis of serving in the swing state of Ohio. But for now, he's safe. DeWine has received wide praise on some issues, including cutting a backlog in DNA testing. He's also tended to the GOP base by expanding concealed-carry gun rights and opposing the Obama health-care law. His likely Democratic opponent is former Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Commissioner David Pepper, who lost his one previous statewide race for state auditor in 2010 by five points.
In 2010, Pruitt survived a tough GOP primary, followed by an easy general election victory in this staunchly Republican state. No challengers have yet emerged in either party, suggesting he should have smooth sailing for a second term in 2014.
Kilmartin is running for his second term in 2014, after winning with less than 50 percent of the vote in the primary and the general election. (Independent parties took a whopping 29 percent of the vote in the general election.) Kilmartin's approval rating is only slightly positive at the moment, with lots of voters saying they don't know enough to rate him. Still, he doesn't appear to have collected much negative baggage from his first term, and he lacks both a Democratic primary challenger and a Republican opponent for now. In a strongly Democratic state, Kilmartin starts with a strong edge.
Though South Carolina politics tend to be brash, Wilson, elected in 2010, has largely avoided controversy. For now, he appears safe.
Jackley, who was elected to a full term in 2010, looks to be a sure bet for re-election in 2014. He's pressed transparency in local governments and has promoted rehabilitation rather than incarceration -- two issues that have won him plaudits from across the spectrum. The Democrats will be hard-pressed to find a credible candidate to run against him.
Abbott, who's been elected AG three times, is weighing a run for governor in 2014, even if it means facing fellow Republican Rick Perry in a primary. But even if Abbott does run for governor, there is such a strong Republican bench in Texas and such a weak Democratic one that the GOP is almost certain to keep the AG post.
There's speculation that Sorrell, Vermont's AG since 1997, could retire after his current term. At this point, the most likely candidate to succeed him would be T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County state's attorney who challenged Sorrell in the 2012 Democratic primary and lost only narrowly. Either way, the seat should stay in Democratic hands.
Seven states have attorneys general that are appointed rather than elected. Theoretically, a change in the positions that appoint the AGs could shift the partisan balance in 2014. At this point, however, any shift in these seven seats would be speculative.
The governors of Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming appoint their state's AG. While each of these governorships are up in 2013-2014, a partisan change in any of these offices seems unlikely at this point. Meanwhile, in Maine, the legislature appoints the AG; in 2012, both chambers flipped to Democratic control, and the new legislature naturally appointed a Democratic AG. A switch back to a Republican legislature, and thus a Republican AG, is considered unlikely for 2014.
Finally, in Tennessee, the state Supreme Court appoints the AG, and the current eight-year term of Democrat Robert Cooper is set to end in 2014. What the justices do is anyone's guess.
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