The 2013-2014 Attorneys General Races: Who's Vulnerable?

Last week, we revealed who wasn't in danger. Now find out which 10 AG seats are competitive.
by | March 25, 2013

The 50 attorneys general offices are more evenly divided than either gubernatorial offices or state legislative chambers. And as the 2013-2014 races approach, it looks poised to stay that way.

Last week, we detailed the AG races deemed "not vulnerable." To recap, 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" and 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. The vulnerable category includes three open seats and one vulnerable incumbent. Virginia's GOP-held open seat is the only AG contest on tap for 2013; the rest are set for 2014.

The potentially vulnerable category includes two Democratic open seats, one potential Democratic open seat and three vulnerable Republicans. Divided by category and in alphabetical order, the 10 attorney general posts that are considered vulnerable and potentially vulnerable are:

Vulnerable

Virginia: 2013 open seat; held by Ken Cuccinelli (R)

This is the only AG race in 2013, and it should be competitive even though the Democrats haven't won an AG race in Virginia since 1989. The tone for this purple-state contest will likely be set by the gubernatorial race between Cuccinelli, a staunch conservative, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

Both parties will have contested nomination battles. The GOP will choose its AG nominee at a convention. The two contenders are state Sen. Mark Obenshain, who was elected in 2003, and Del. Rob Bell, who was elected in 2001. Obenshain is the son of 1978 GOP Senate nominee Richard Obenshain, who was killed in a plane crash while campaigning. Both are seen as strong fiscal and social conservatives.

The Democrats, meanwhile, will choose between state Sen. Mark Herring, who has represented a swing district since a 2006 special election, and Justin Fairfax, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

If the Democrats hit paydirt with attacks on Cuccinelli's conservative positions in the gubernatorial race, the Republican candidates for AG could suffer indirectly. Conversely, if McAuliffe struggles, he could drag down either Democrat

.

Arizona AG Tom Horne (R)

Horne, elected in 2010, has been beset by controversy. He's fighting charges that he failed to stop after hitting a car; this was witnessed by FBI agents who were tailing him, possibly in the course of pursuing a campaign finance case, though the FBI hasn't confirmed this. Complicating matters further, FBI reports speculate that he left the scene of the accident because he was having an affair with a female employee. Horne declined comment on allegations of an affair and has repeatedly said he didn't know he had caused any damage, according to the Associated Press.

These issues derailed Horne's gubernatorial ambitions and have now put his re-election in doubt. The Democrats have at least one strong challenger -- the woman Horne defeated in 2010, Assistant Attorney General Felecia Rotellini, who previously served as superintendent of the state Department of Financial Institutions. Independent observers expect her to be well-funded and say she will give Horne a run for his money, despite the state's Republican lean.

Arkansas: Open seat; held by Dustin McDaniel (D)

McDaniel is the most recent in a long line of Democratic attorneys general in Arkansas, but the state has been moving solidly in the Republicans' direction, leaving this seat up for grabs. (McDaniel's personal troubles aren't doing his potential Democratic successors any favors, either.)

The possible GOP field includes House Speaker Davy Carter; Leslie Rutledge, who has returned to Arkansas following a stint as legal counsel for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C.; and North Little Rock attorney David Sterling. The Democrats should have a credible candidate, possibly U.S. Attorney Connor Eldridge, former state Rep. Chris Thomason and state Sen. Robert Thompson. But the field in either party is far from settled.

Colorado: Open seat; Held by John Suthers (R)

In this open-seat contest, Democratic former Adams County District Attorney Don Quick is running and is considered a strong contender to flip the seat. The Republican field is more fluid. It could include a senior official in the AG's office, Cynthia Coffman, and House Minority Leader Mark Waller. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2010, had been mentioned, but his future plans are in doubt following a diagnosis of lymphoma. Colorado is a purple state, so the contest should be competitive.

Potentially Vulnerable

Florida AG Pam Bondi (R)

Bondi won her seat amid a total Democratic wipeout in the 2010 midterm elections. She's not as vulnerable as GOP Gov. Rick Scott is, but with Florida returning to its purple form in 2012, she could face some difficulty if the Democrats field a credible candidate. For now, though, there's only speculation as to the Democratic field: Fort Lauderdale mayor and former state legislator Jack Seiler, or Florida Democratic Party chairman and former state legislator Rod Smith. Neither has made solid moves toward running, however.

Illinois AG Lisa Madigan (D)

If the popular Madigan seeks re-election, she will be a lock. But there's heavy speculation that she will instead run for governor. While the Democrats have regularly sailed to victory in Illinois in recent years and would be favored in a race to succeed Madigan, an open AG seat could become competitive if the state GOP finds the right candidate. Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran is already running; other potential Republicans include DuPage County state's attorney Bob Berlin and state Reps. Tom Cross, Dennis Reboletti and Jim Durkin. On the Democratic side, potential successors to Madigan include Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon, and state Reps. John Bradley and Jack Franks.

Michigan AG Bill Schuette (R)

Despite Michigan's purple-to-blue lean, Schuette starts as the favorite. However, if GOP Gov. Rick Snyder struggles as a result of his support of a right-to-work law -- and if the Democrats can get a strong candidate such as Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer to run for AG -- Schuette could face a real race.

Nevada: Open seat; held by Catherine Cortez Masto (D)

The Democrats start out as favorites to hold the seat, as long as Secretary of State Ross Miller runs. Miller, recently chosen as one of Governing's rising stars among statewide officials, is the son of a former governor and recently attracted notice for a brief, but undefeated, mixed-martial-arts career. Strong potential Republican opponents include state Sens. Greg Brower and Mark Hutchison -- either of which could benefit if GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval has coattails in his re-election bid. Still, the GOP field is far from settled for now.

New Mexico: Open seat; held by Gary King (D)

State Auditor Hector Balderas and Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks are A-list Democrats for this race; a spirited Democratic primary contest is expected. Some suggest that it's Balderas' "turn" after losing to Martin Heinrich in a 2012 primary for a state Senate seat. On the Republican side, District Attorney Matt Chandler -- who lost to King in the 2010 AG race -- could be a credible contender if he runs again. But the GOP side is not settled at this point.

Wisconsin AG J.B. Van Hollen (R)

Van Hollen, elected in 2006, has had a relatively low profile in the state -- certainly compared to fellow Republicans Gov. Scott Walker or Rep. Paul Ryan. But while neither Walker nor Van Hollen has so far attracted top-tier challengers for 2014, the swing nature of the state and the high partisan polarization make it premature to say that Van Hollen is a shoo-in for a third term.

Offices not contested in 2013-2014: Three AG offices will be contested in 2015: Kentucky (D), Louisiana (R) and Mississippi (D). Nine will be contested in 2016: Indiana (R), Missouri (D), Montana (R), North Carolina (D), Oregon (D), Pennsylvania (D), Utah (R), Washington state (D) and West Virginia (R).

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