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2018 Attorneys General Races: Who's Vulnerable?

For now, it's the Republicans. Seven GOP-held AG seats, compared to three for the Democrats, are being hotly contested.

California AG Xavier Becerra may face a Republican challenger in the fall, but he's still expected to win handily.
(TNS/Gary Coronado)
In the four months since our previous handicapping of the nation's attorneys general races, primaries have sorted out several contests and potential candidates have jockeyed into and out of others. Still, Republicans remain on the hot seat this fall.

That's largely because the GOP holds 27 attorneys general offices, compared to 22 for the Democrats and one nonpartisan seat appointed by Alaska's independent governor.

Of those, 30 elected seats are up this cycle, with 18 currently held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. (In total, 43 seats are popularly elected and seven are either appointed by the governor, the legislature or state supreme court. We do not rate the appointed seats.)

According to our reporting, 10 races are considered to be "in play," meaning they are rated tossup, lean Democratic or lean Republican. (Seats rated likely or safe for one party or the other are not in play.) Of the 10 vulnerable seats, the Republicans currently hold seven.

The number of competitive races and the partisan distribution has shifted only slightly since our previous handicapping in February and the changes benefit both parties. For the Democrats, we've moved Connecticut's open seat from tossup to lean Democratic and shifted Georgia's open seat from safe Republican to likely Republican.

For the Republicans, a sudden upheaval in the Minnesota AG race has convinced us to shift the contest from likely Democratic to lean Democratic. In Texas, we've moved incumbent Republican Ken Paxton's race from likely Republican to safe Republican. And in New York, the abrupt resignation of Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman amid #MeToo accusations turned an easy reelection victory into a scramble to succeed him. Democrats remain favored, but we've shifted the race from safe Democratic to likely Democratic as a precaution.

The results of the tossup races will determine which party has a better Election Night. And the seats in that category are currently held exclusively by Republicans. They are the open AG offices in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio, plus the seat held by a Republican incumbent in Wisconsin.

In a neutral environment, this would suggest the Democrats could expect to gain a couple of seats. But if there's a Democratic wave, the party might win even more than that, perhaps enough to turn an overall Republican lead in AG seats into a Democratic one.

In the handicapping below, the seats within each category are rank-ordered from most likely to go Republican to most likely to go Democratic.


No Election  
Safe Democratic  
Likely Democratic  
Lean Democratic
Safe Republican  
Likely Republican  
Lean Republican


Safe Republican

Nebraska AG Doug Peterson (R)

With a steady first term under his belt, Peterson is almost ensured to see a second one. He doesn't have any serious opposition yet, either in the primary or the general election.

Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden (R)

In September, Wasden announced his intention to seek a fifth term, squashing rumors that he might run for governor. He'll face Democrat Bruce Bistline, but should cruise to victory in this solidly Republican state.

North Dakota AG Wayne Stenehjem (R)

North Dakota leans strongly Republican and Stenehjem is popular. He has no primary opponent and is the heavy favorite against Democrat David Clark Thompson, a former state legislative aide and attorney in private practice.

Alabama AG Steve Marshall (R)

Marshall was appointed to the office by former Gov. Robert Bentley after his predecessor, Luther Strange, was tapped to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy. But Marshall, a former Democrat who was previously a county prosecutor in northern Alabama, is facing a runoff against Troy King, who himself was appointed to the attorney general post before being defeated in a primary by Strange.

Either Marshall or Troy are favored to win in this solidly red state, even against a familiar name. Joseph Siegelman, the son of former Gov. Don Siegelman, defeated Chris Christie, who is no relation to the former Republican New Jersey governor, in the primary and will face the winner of the runoff.

Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge (R)

Democrats finally found a candidate to challenge Rutledge: Mike Lee, an engineer, lawyer and law school professor. But the AG race is likely to struggle for attention from Democrats, who are expected to focus more on the competitive 2nd District congressional race. Either way, Rutledge is the favorite in this strongly Republican state.

Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter (R)

Hunter was appointed to succeed Scott Pruitt, who was tapped by President Trump to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He's a policy veteran who previously served as a state legislator, secretary of state and top aide to former Republican U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts. Hunter faces an ugly primary fight on June 26 from Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond, who has accused Hunter of not meeting residency requirements because he lived in Virginia while he was working as a Washington lobbyist. Hunter countered that Drummond encouraged a client to lie under oath, and a tit-for-tat has since ensued. Still, whether its Hunter or Drummond, the Republican is favored to beat Democratic attorney Mark Myles in the fall.

Kansas AG Derek Schmidt (R)

Schmidt, a moderate Republican, is popular and well positioned to win a third term. He'll face Democrat Sarah Swain, an attorney, who he is expected to handily defeat.

South Dakota: Open seat; AG Marty Jackley (R) is running for governor

In South Dakota, several Republicans are seeking the nomination. Whoever gets the nod -- they'll to be picked during the party convention June 20-23 -- will be a heavy favorite over the Democratic nominee, given the state's strong Republican leaning.

That said, if Democrats select Tatewin Means during their convention, things could get interesting. Means is a former attorney general of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and daughter of the late American Indian activist Russell Means. It's believed that she would be the nation's first Native American woman to be elected as a state attorney general.

Texas AG Ken Paxton (R) (Shift from likely Republican)

Superficially, Paxton should be vulnerable: He is facing a trial for securities fraud. But this is solidly Republican Texas, and a conviction by Election Day is unlikely. Meanwhile, Paxton has portrayed the prosecution as a liberal witch hunt, an argument that should resonate with the GOP base. For their part, the Democrats have a credible candidate, trial lawyer Justin Nelson, who has raised nearly $1 million. Ultimately, it looks like Paxton, despite his legal troubles, is positioned to ride Gov. Greg Abbott's coattails to reelection this year. While support for Trump is softer in Texas than in other red states, it's not soft enough to turn otherwise safe GOP races into competitive contests.


Likely Republican

Georgia AG Chris Carr (R) (shift from safe Republican)

Carr was appointed to the post in 2016 when Sam Olens was named president of Kennesaw State University. Now, he has to run for a term of his own. He was unopposed in the primary and will face Democrat Charlie Bailey, a former senior prosecutor in Fulton County who has garnered good job reviews. Still, it remains to be seen whether he can gain enough momentum to win in a state that has recently leaned heavily Republican.

South Carolina AG Alan Wilson (R)

Wilson, who's seeking a third term, has taken flak for his management of an ongoing statehouse corruption investigation. The issue has forced him into a runoff with state Rep. Todd Atwater. The Democratic candidate, Charleston School of Law professor Constance Anastopoulo, could do well if a damaged Republican emerges from the primary. In the absence of that, though, the Republican nominee is the presumptive favorite.


Lean Republican

Arizona AG Mark Brnovich (R)

Brnovich, who won his office in 2014 after defeating a Republican incumbent in the primary, has a money edge against former assistant attorney general and Obama administration official January Contreras. The question is whether an energized Democratic and Latino vote can deliver the office to Contreras, or whether Brnovich has demonstrated enough independence to win some crossover voters. But of all the statewide offices in Arizona, the Republicans seem relatively well positioned in the AG race. Brnovich has tackled consumer protection issues and weighed in on the U.S. Supreme Court's gambling decision and its impact on Arizona.



Wisconsin AG Brad Schimel (R)

Schimel is seeking a second term and faces Democrat Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor and first-time candidate who is the son of former Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager. Both Schimel and Kaul should have enough money keep the race competitive and in the tossup category.

Ohio: Open seat; AG Mike DeWine (R) is running for governor

Republican state Auditor David Yost will face former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, a Democrat. Both candidates have solid records to run on. Yost used his role as state auditor to push for state takeovers of financially and academically troubled public schools and led an investigation into irregularities at a charter "e-school" that was shuttered earlier this year. Dettelbach, for his part, handled high-profile Cuyahoga County government corruption cases that led to voters changing the county system of government. He was also involved with a federal consent decree with the Cleveland police. This race will likely be influenced by top-of-the-ballot contests, including the open gubernatorial seat and a competitive U.S. Senate race. In recent years, the GOP has had an edge in statewide races, but recent polling has shown gains for Democrats. This one seems competitive enough to remain a tossup.

Michigan: Open seat; AG Bill Schuette (R) is running for governor

Republican state House Speaker Tom Leonard is the favorite against state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker in the GOP primary, which will be held in August. Meanwhile, Democratic attorney Dana Nessel, who won a preliminary convention nod and is currently the favorite, will face former U.S. Attorney Pat Miles. Michigan is prime battleground territory and the race is relatively undeveloped at this point, so we're keeping it in tossup for now.

Florida: Open seat; AG Pam Bondi (R) is term-limited

The GOP field is led by former Tampa Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who has Bondi's endorsement; other candidates include state Rep. Frank White. On the Democratic side, state Rep. Sean Shaw, the son of Leander Shaw, the first black chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and attorney Ryan Torrens are running. Another Democratic name being floated is Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. The open seat AG race will compete for attention with, and likely be affected by, other major races in Florida this cycle, including an open gubernatorial seat and a hotly contested U.S. Senate race. None of the candidates in the race has statewide name recognition, which puts this race in the tossup category for now. However, the primary in late August could sharpen the outlook.

Colorado: Open seat; AG Cynthia Coffman (R) is not running for releection

Republican George Brauchler, a well-known district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora mass shooting and previously ran for governor, is awaiting the resolution of the Democratic primary on June 26, which is breaking down to an establishment-vs.-insurgent contest. University of Colorado law school dean Phil Weiser, who previously held several Justice Department positions and clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is well funded but faces a more aggressively liberal candidate, Joe Salazar. In a neutral political environment, Brauchler has the profile and the credibility to have a strong shot at winning, but if there's a national wave, the Democrats could have the edge.

Nevada: Open seat; AG Adam Laxalt (R) is running for governor

State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, a Democrat, will face former state Assemblyman and Deputy Attorney General Wes Duncan, a Republican. A recent poll sponsored by The Nevada Independent found Ford ahead, 36 percent to 27 percent. That's positive news for the Democrat, but with lots of undecided voters it's too early to move the race out of tossup.


Lean Democratic

Minnesota: Open seat, AG Lori Swanson (D) is running for governor (shift from likely Democratic)

The race changed suddenly when Swanson failed to secure her party's endorsement for AG at the state convention and then announced that she would run for governor instead. This prompted U.S. Rep. and Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Keith Ellison to enter a crowded primary that includes attorney Matt Pelikan, who had challenged Swanson from the left. Former Republican state Rep. Doug Wardlow is in the hunt on the GOP side. Until the Aug. 12 primary defines this race more, we're shifting this to lean Democratic.

Connecticut: Open seat; AG George Jepsen (D) is retiring (shift from tossup)

The Democrats have a three-way primary on Aug. 14, where state Senate Judiciary Chair Paul Doyle, state House Judiciary Chair William Tong and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Mattei will face off. Tong won the party endorsement on the second ballot at the May convention, but he still needs to prevail in the primary against Mattei, who's running to his left, and Doyle, who's running to his right.

On the Republican side, Susan Hatfield, a state's attorney, easily won the Republican convention nod, though she may face former state Rep. John Shaban in the primary. While Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy is finishing his second term with low approval ratings, the Democratic base is energized nationally and the last Republican AG left office in 1959. We're moving this race to lean Democratic.

Illinois: Open seat; AG Lisa Madigan (D) is not running for another term

This contest has the potential to be competitive. The Democratic nominee is Kwame Raoul, an African-American state senator from Chicago. The Republican candidate is Erika Harold, an attorney from central Illinois with an interesting background: a social conservative Harvard Law School grad and former Miss America. Harold has star power, but Raoul has a solid reputation as a lawmaker. He'll be tied to the Democratic organization, but she'll be tied to GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has struggled.

Neither candidate has run statewide before, and without massive funding help, both will struggle for visibility. Still, in a race between two largely unknown candidates in a Democratic state, the advantage lies with the Democrat.


Likely Democratic

Delaware: Open seat; AG Matt Denn (D) is retiring

On the Democratic side, there's an energetic primary brewing for this open seat. The field includes Deputy AG LaKresha Roberts, attorney Chris Johnson and two former New Castle County officials, Kathleen Jennings and Tim Mullaney Sr. Jennings has name recognition; she prosecuted the state's only known serial killer earlier in her career.

Meanwhile, the GOP bench is thin in this solidly blue state, which means that whoever wins the Democratic primary should have a strong leg up.

New York: Open seat; AG Eric Schneiderman (D) resigned (shift from safe Democratic)

Schneiderman, who had been aggressively investigating Trump's personal businesses, was seen as a near lock for reelection and a possible future gubernatorial contender before accounts of his domestic violence became public and he abruptly resigned. Schneiderman's replacement, Barbara Underwood, is not running for a term of her own. The early favorite is New York City Public Advocate Tish James, who has locked up most of the big endorsements and institutional support and has elbowed out some relatively strong potential contenders. But she'll need to get past Zephy Teachout and U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the Democratic primary in September. Teachout, a vocal progressive, has run unsuccessfully for governor against Andrew Cuomo and for a U.S. House seat.

Republicans had a hard time finding someone to nominate at their convention before settling on Keith Wofford, co-managing partner of the law firm Ropes & Gray. And while he's unlikely to beat a Democrat in this blue state, we're moving it to likely Democratic given the unsettled nature of the race.


Safe Democratic

New Mexico AG Hector Balderas (D)

The Republicans have a challenger in attorney Michael Hendricks, but incumbent Balderas enjoys superior name recognition and remains a strong favorite.

Maryland AG Brian Frosh (D)

Attorney General Brian Frosh, who's seeking a second term, has regularly joined with other Democratic attorneys general to take on the Trump administration in court. His Republican opponent, Craig Wolf -- a major in the Army Reserves who is leaving the presidency of a D.C.-based trade association to run -- is expected to tie himself closely to popular GOP Gov. Larry Hogan. But despite a 60 percent approval rating, Hogan will have his hands full getting himself reelected in this solidly blue state. As a result, he's considered unlikely to spend much of his personal political capital taking aim at Frosh.

Rhode Island: Open seat; AG Peter Kilmartin (D) is term-limited

The only contender so far is Democrat Peter Neronha, a former U.S. attorney for Rhode Island who stepped down when Obama left office. He's considered popular with voters for his efforts to fight political corruption in the state, and as a nonpartisan official until 2017, he should have a measure of cross-partisan appeal. Others may eventually join the Democratic field and the Republicans may find a candidate -- the filing deadline is June 27 -- but all eyes are on Neronha.

Massachusetts AG Maura Healy (D)

Healy is popular and is poised to face only token opposition from one of two Republican attorneys, James McMahon and Dan Shores. Massachusetts has not elected a Republican to the AG office since 1966.

Iowa AG Tom Miller (D)

With the exception of four years in the '90s, Miller has been Iowa's attorney general since 1979. His last race in 2014 was relatively close by his standards: He bested Adam Gregg, who is now acting lieutenant governor, by 11 points. But he's running unopposed, so barring something unforeseen, Miller should be good for another term.

California AG Xavier Becerra (D)

Becerra is well positioned to win a first full term. He faces Republican Steven Bailey, a former superior court judge and critic of the state's sanctuary laws. Under California's primary system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance. Bailey got 25 percent of the vote, and Becerra got 45 percent.

If Becerra, who was appointed to succeed newly elected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, does win reelection, he could become California's first appointed statewide official in decades to win the office to which he was appointed. Either way, California has become so strongly Democratic that the AG seat should be safe for the party.

Vermont AG T.J. Donovan (D)

Donovan is completing his first term and his only competition will be from perennial candidate Brooke Paige, who filed to run in five statewide races (lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor). Donovan's reelection is assured.

*This has been updated to reflect the fact that Jay Fant dropped out of the Florida race.

Louis Jacobson is a GOVERNING contributor.
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