Tuesday, October 14, 2014

AG Order: 2014 Race Ratings for Attorney General

First we looked at lieutenant governors; the other day, it was auditors. Today, in the third part of my 2014 downballot race ratings, we'll look at the nation's 31 attorney-general races.

Why should you care about attorneys general? Well, chances are, they interpret the laws you live by—everything from same-sex marriage to voting rights. The parties you belong to spend millions of dollars to hold these prized seats, through party committees like the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA). They also rather often grow up to be your governors and, sometimes, your presidents.

Every state has an attorney general, but the office is appointed in seven states. In the remaining 43, partisan control couldn't be more balanced; Democrats hold 22 seats, and Republicans hold 21. Because of Republican successes in 2010, though, that party is far more exposed in this election, with 17 of their seats up compared to 14 of Democrats'. I project that Democrats should hold onto their 22 seats and are at least an even proposition to add to their numbers.

Below are my race ratings for the 2014 AG races; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. For a rundown of my methodology, see my September 26 post; for full downballot race ratings as they become available, surf to my 2014 Ratings page.

Alabama: Likely Republican
The redness of this state should normally be enough to deliver an easy win for the Republican—and that will probably still be the case. But observers in Alabama believe that, for whatever reason, Attorney General Luther Strange is not as safe as Alabama's other incumbents seeking re-election. Democrat Joe Hubbard is anywhere from five points up (in his own polling) to 15 points down (according to a RAGA survey) and has half a million dollars to spend.

Arizona: Tossup
In 2010, Democrat Felecia Rotellini came within 3.8 points of beating Republican Tom Horne for Arizona attorney general. Four years later, Horne is under investigation for having an extramartial affair with a staffer, trying to cover it up, and then trying to cover up illegal campaign activity in his official office uncovered by the investigation into his affair. Republicans breathed a sigh of relief when Horne lost the 2014 primary to Mark Brnovich, but Rotellini still has a strong platform from which to campaign in her second attempt at the job. Rotellini has raised and spent more money than Brnovich, but the RAGA has dropped over $1 million in independent expenditures against Rotellini—showing this race truly is as close as the polls indicate.

Arkansas: Leans Democratic
It's been a crazy few years for the Arkansas AG's office. Democratic incumbent Dustin McDaniel is limping out of office after destroying his political career with an extramarital affair. That left Democratic State Representative Nate Steel and Republican attorney Leslie Rutledge running for the job, but Rutledge has had a rough go of it herself. She made national news when she was found to be registered to vote in three places—Arkansas, Washington, DC, and Virginia—and was purged from the voter rolls (for a while there was even thought this would disqualify her from the race). A past performance review was also leaked that noted her "gross incompetence" and put her on a "do not hire" list; finally, she starred in a RAGA independent-expenditure ad, which probably breaks campaign-coordination laws. It's unclear how much these are the types of scandals voters care about, but she's slipped into a statistical tie in polls after leading in an August PPP survey. She also doesn't have the money to dig herself out of a hole, having spent most of her already-meager fundraising dollars on a tough primary battle. Meanwhile, Steel has run a smooth campaign, has been endorsed by the NRA, and—oh yeah—has it riding for him that a Democrat has never lost an Arkansas attorney general race.

California: Solid Democratic
Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris is one of the most unstoppable politicians in the country. ETA on the national stage: circa 2024.

Colorado: Likely Republican
Democrats initially harbored high hopes of flipping this open seat into their column, but Republican Cynthia Coffman may actually be the more likely member of her family to get elected in November. (Her husband, Congressman Mike, is in the fight of his life in CO-06.) The RAGA has dumped $2.6 million into this race, and Democrat Don Quick has emptied almost his whole bank account—$446,159—to try to respond. He's been down 10 and nine points in the race's two polls.

Connecticut: Solid Democratic
Democratic Attorney General George Jepsen was easily elected in 2010, and it shouldn't be too tricky for him in 2014. A just-released PPP poll found him up 15 points on Republican "some dude" Kie Westby.

Delaware: Solid Democratic
Perhaps it's an indictment of the lieutenant-governor job that Delaware's LG, Democrat Matthew Denn, is leaving his job mid-term to seek a "promotion" to attorney general this cycle. Regardless, he's steamrolling his no-name Republican opponent as thoroughly as you'd expect for the state's second-most powerful politician.

Florida: Likely Republican
Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has gained infamy in liberal circles for her active opposition to the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, but she can get away with it as long as she retains one other skill: fundraising. Bondi has raised $3.1 million for her reelection so far this cycle. Although Democrat George Sheldon is an experienced political hand and a credible challenger, she has had a clear upper hand all cycle. The two most recent polls have given her a 17-point lead (albeit in a Republican poll) and an eight-point lead.

Georgia: Likely Republican
In a year when Democrats are surprisingly strong in Georgia's Senate and gubernatorial races, attorney general may not be far behind. Republican incumbent Sam Olens was pulled into the imbroglio over Governor Nathan Deal's interference in his own ethics investigation after Olens's office squelched the ethics commission's complaint about Deal's involvement. The bad press may be cutting into Olens's polling lead, which is down to seven or eight points, according to WXIA.

Idaho: Solid Republican
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was first elected in 2002, so Idaho voters are comfortable with him; even if they weren't, Democrat Bruce Bistline isn't even campaigning. He filed to run just in case Wasden's primary challenger, whom Bistline apparently really dislikes, won the race. After Wasden triumphed, Bistline announced he has no problems with the incumbent; "I would probably never have bothered to run against Wasden, because my differences with him are fairly nominal." OK then.

Illinois: Solid Democratic
Perhaps the safest prediction of any contested downballot race is that Attorney General Lisa Madigan will beat her Republican challenger Paul Schimpf. In the latest poll, she took 56%, and she also has $4.8 million cash on hand. For those of you scoring at home, that's 600 times as much as Schimpf.

Iowa: Solid Democratic
Democratic incumbent Tom Miller is seeking election to an unprecedented ninth term as attorney general. Republican Adam Gregg isn't intimidated—he's active enough that he's airing campaign ads—but it's still a serious long shot. PPP has polled the race twice and found Miller up by at least 20 points both times.

Kansas: Solid Republican
The Democratic mini-wave that may be sweeping over Kansas in 2014 doesn't look like it'll touch the attorney general race; in an average of four polls, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt is up by an average of 22 points. Schmidt is one of the last AGs still fighting same-sex marriage in his state, and he's backed Secretary of State Kris Kobach's controversial plan for a two-tiered voting system.

Maryland: Solid Democratic
This open-seat race provided brief excitement when State Senator Brian Frosh emerged as the surprise victor in the three-way Democratic primary. Republican Jeffrey Pritzker has attacked Frosh over Maryland's new strict gun-control law, Frosh's brainchild in the legislature, but he has no teeth behind the argument; he raised literally zero dollars in the last reporting period. Even in a recent Republican-friendly poll, Frosh led 49–26.

Massachusetts: Solid Democratic
The old-versus-new primary between Harvard-educated, gay, female Maura Healey and labor-supported, Boston-accented former Beacon Hill powerbroker Warren Tolman was the Bay State's marquee primary fight and the real contest for Massachusetts's next top cop. Republican John B. Miller has money and is up on the airwaves, but Massachusetts is just too blue for primary victor Maura Healey to lose.

Michigan: Leans Republican
An incumbent Michigan attorney general hasn't lost re-election in over 60 years, but Michigan Democrats are doing well across the board this year. Despite a serious fundraising disadvantage, Democrat Mark Totten has been nipping at Repubican Bill Schuette's heels in polls. Totten isn't finding it as easy as Gary Peters or even Mark Schauer, but he's not as well known as them, and he's been airing ads with an anti-crime message to change that.

Minnesota: Solid Democratic
The rare AG race without any polling, Minnesota's looks to favor Democratic incumbent Lori Swanson based off the pure fundamentals. No statewide Republican is mounting a serious campaign in 2014, and Swanson is a popular, well-known figure who coasted to a second term in the unfriendly terrain of 2010.

Nebraska: Likely Republican
This rating may be generous to Democrat Janet Stewart, but there are signs this isn't a typical Nebraska election. The AG seat is open for the first time in 12 years, and the Republican administration has been scandalized after it was revealed Nebraska released violent offenders from jail ahead of schedule. If voters are in a punitive mood, they might pull the lever for Stewart, who is also the only candidate in the race to have run statewide before (in 2010, for secretary of state—but she lost). Make no mistake, though—Doug Peterson still has the biggest advantage in this race: the "R" next to his name.

Nevada: Leans Democratic
Nevada is home to one of the most dramatic attorney-general elections in the country. It's a matchup between two dynasties: Democrat Ross Miller, the outgoing secretary of state, is the son of former Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and Republican Adam Laxalt is the grandson of former Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt and the illegitimate son of former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. At ages 38 and 34, respectively, it's also a fight for who will be the future face of Nevada politics. So far, it's a fight Miller is winning. Laxalt made national headlines with the leak of an old law-firm evaluation calling him a "train wreck" who "doesn't even have the basic skill set." Laxalt has also uttered what could charitably be called gaffes and uncharitably called lies in debates. However, Republican interests (like Nevadan Sheldon Adelson) have kept the race competitive by pouring money in to defeat Miller—a sort of Terminator-like insurance policy against a future Governor Ross Miller. Laxalt, the RAGA, and other GOP allies have spent $844,000 on TV commercials already; see, I told you downballot races could be interesting.

New Mexico: Leans Democratic
In the absence of public polling, Governing magazine recently rated the New Mexico AG race a tossup. Well, promptly thereafter, two polls of the race were released, both showing Democrat Hector Balderas in the lead for this open seat. Balderas has way more money behind him than does Republican Susan Riedel; in addition to two TV ads of his own, the super PAC the Committee for Justice and Fairness is putting almost $350,000 behind him.

New York: Solid Democratic
Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was part of Bud Selig's new sexual-orientation initiative for Major League Baseball. Clearly this is why he leads old Albany hand John Cahill (George Pataki's old chief of staff) in all polls (even Cahill internals).

North Dakota: Solid Republican
This easily wins the title for battle of the coolest names: Republican Wayne Stenehjem and Democrat Kiara Kraus-Parr. Stenehjem has been attorney general since 2001. He's been re-elected with 72.5%, 68.9%, and 74.6% of the vote, and there's no reason to think that'll change this year.

Ohio: Likely Republican
The nastiest AG race in the country can be found in the same state as the nastiest auditor race; in fact, pretty much every downballot race in Ohio this year is a death match. Democrat David Pepper was chosen to go up against Buckeye stalwart Mike DeWine, who over the past 30 years has served as senator, congressman, lieutenant governor, and now attorney general. Unsurprisingly, then, DeWine started with the advantage, but Pepper has hit him furiously. In TV commercials, Pepper has accused DeWine of corruption; DeWine has aired three ads of his own and used the most recent one to hit right back. The super PAC Moving Ohio Forward Network has also contributed to the broadcast bravado. Polling so far has indicated that it's DeWine who is emerging less bloodied; after Ohio Democrats declined to release a poll contradicting a GOP pollster's 29-point DeWine lead—despite having good numbers for other statewide Democrats—many assumed that Pepper knows he is losing. Both have over $2.4 million on hand, so expect to hear a lot more from both candidates for the rest of the season.

Oklahoma: Solid Republican
Given how high-profile the office can be in a state, it's somewhat surprising that attorney general could go uncontested anywhere—but if it's going to be somewhere, it makes sense that it's Oklahoma. Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt does not face an opponent this cycle and can start planning now for his second term.

Rhode Island: Likely Democratic
Ocean State Republicans have some ammunition in their constitutional elections this year: Republican Dawson Hodgson, for instance, has taken a page out of the gubernatorial playbook in harping on the state's ill-fated 38 Studios deal with Curt Schilling's video-game company. It's made both that race and this race a little closer than you'd expect in this blue state, and Hodgson has the money to make the charges stick. The bet here is that Democratic incumbent Peter Kilmartin wins this one, but only if he stays on his toes. WPRI is releasing the race's first poll today, which should lend us some clarity.

South Carolina: Solid Republican
Oddly, Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson—not the musician—is running against Democrat Parnell Diggs—who is a musician. If you ever meet Diggs, give him a hug; the blind attorney has spent his life overcoming disability, married his high-school sweetheart, and seems like an all-around great guy, but he's woefully overmatched, at just $438 cash on hand. Here's hoping he'll run a campaign his son Jordan can be proud of, despite the predestined 20-point loss.

South Dakota: Solid Republican
Attorney General Marty Jackley faces only Libertarian Chad Haber in the general, raising the question: what exactly would a Libertarian attorney general do? Other than being sucked into the void for being a paradox, I mean. Anyway, with no Democratic opposition, only Scott Pruitt stands between Jackley and being the safest AG in America.

Texas: Solid Republican
State Senator Ken Paxton (R) is a pretty strong candidate, sure, but was he the general who won the Battle of San Jacinto, the only man to be elected governor of two different states, and both the first and third president of the Republic of Texas? Democratic politician Sam Houston was. Too bad it's a different Democratic politician named Sam Houston running for Texas AG this year.

Utah: Solid Republican
The election that shouldn't have happened. Usually, Utah elects its attorneys general in presidential years along with all its other constitutional officers, but the last four times they did that, it turned out they were electing brazenly corrupt criminals. In December 2013, Republican John Swallow resigned as attorney general due to his and his predecessor Mark Shurtleff's pending arrest for receiving and soliciting bribes, accepting gifts that were clearly influencing their official work, and destroying evidence to cover it all up. Utah's governor appointed Republican Sean Reyes to helm the office until a special election could be held. Reyes has managed to completely avoid being tainted with any whiff of the old office's scandal, which makes it odd that some commentators consider this a winnable race for Democrat Charles Stormont. Perhaps because he is a longtime employee in the attorney general's office, Stormont hasn't harped on the scandal very much, despite Democrats' clear position as the party of change. Instead the race has largely been about same-sex marriage, and Utah is still Utah.

Vermont: Solid Democratic
Democrat Bill Sorrell has been elected eight times Vermont's attorney general, and he is the longest-serving AG in state history. Republican Shane McCormack says, "I'm just a guy." He'll also be just that after Election Day.

Wisconsin: Tossup
Many would argue we've saved the best for last. Controversial Attorney General JB Van Hollen is retiring, leaving an open seat smack-dab in the most bitterly contested state in the union. Democrat Susan Happ emerged from a three-way primary to challenge Republican Brad Schimel; the two are district attorneys of adjacent counties. While the TV ads are only just beginning, the candidates have used debates to draw contrasts on issues like the state's same-sex-marriage ban and Wisconsin's on-again-off-again voter-ID law. Schimel's defense of both laws got him into hot water when he also said he would reluctantly defend a ban on interracial marriage. The race has seen multiple polls that are nearly unanimous in showing a statistically tied race. This is about as much of a tossup as it gets.

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