State AG races become litmus test for GOP campaign demands
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, was repeatedly reelected in a state where the GOP dominates politically and, in his words, has “20 years of experience calling balls and striking fairly and frankly”.
One of the challengers, Arthur McComber, said a key function of the attorney general’s role is to act as a watchdog against federal power – something he said Wasden hasn’t done enough.
“It’s basically a misunderstanding of the attorney general’s position,” said McComber, a real estate attorney.
The challenge to Wasden within his own party is emblematic of the broader far-right shift within the GOP. Similar dynamics permeate attorney general races across the country, as an office often referred to as the “people’s advocate” — responsible in most states for criminal prosecutions and consumer protection — is increasingly consumed by ideological battles.
Attorney general seats are up in 30 states this year. Some of the most likely to attract heavy spending will be in political battlegrounds such as Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, states that are once again expected to play an outsized role in the 2024 presidential race.
They have already won a first victory. Last fall, voters ousted the incumbent Democratic attorney general from Virginia, a state that has been leaning more and more toward the Democrat in recent years. It was part of a GOP wave in the state that also saw the party claim the governor’s office and a chamber of the legislature.
Nolette said party affiliation is more important to the office than before: “The office has really become like other offices in the state at this point – highly polarized.”
Ahead of the 2020 election, a branch of the Association of Republican Attorneys General held “war games” for officials to plan a response to if Trump lost. This group, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, later promoted the January 6, 2021 rally that preceded the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to thwart voter certification.
For Democrats, there are growing fears that a Republican wave in this year’s election could sweep Democratic governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general from power in crucial presidential battleground states. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who served as attorney general and governor of Montana, warned that a rogue attorney general could undermine election results.
“How can they interfere if they don’t really believe in the rule of law? Both by acting affirmatively and defensively failing to defend the interests of states,” he said.
While secretaries of state oversee elections in most states, attorneys general can play a central role in the aftermath, as demonstrated in 2020.
A month after that election, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn results in four states that backed Biden over Trump. The court dismissed the effort, but only after 18 other Republican attorneys general filed supporting documents.
Wasden of Idaho was not one of them.
“In reviewing the Texas case, it was obvious that this lawsuit was unconstitutional,” he said in an interview. “If Texas can sue Pennsylvania, then California can sue Idaho.”
McComber, who has outscored Wasden slightly during the campaign so far, said he would have joined the Texas lawsuit and added an amicus brief to raise additional legal points. The United States Supreme Court ultimately found that states lacked standing to challenge election results in other states.
Democratic attorneys general defended their states’ 2020 election results in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as did the Republican attorney general in Georgia.
“The public needs to know which side their AG state is on,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, co-chairman of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, said in a video news conference in January.
Sigal Chattah, the lone Republican running for office in Nevada, faults Ford, among other things, for not investigating voter fraud sooner and more vigorously. His office filed a complaint in October against a voter for allegedly voting on behalf of his late wife.
“Do we really believe this was an isolated incident? Chattah asked. “I do not.”
The Associated Press investigated potential cases of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election in Nevada and the five other political battleground states where Trump and his allies contested his loss. The AP found that Nevada election officials had identified between 93 and 98 potential cases – representing less than 0.3% of Biden’s margin of victory in the state.
The fields aren’t defined in every attorney general race, but GOP primary matchups between establishment-style conservatives and those more right-wing are a common theme in several states, including Kansas, Michigan and Minnesota.
“In so many of these races, it’s a race to see who can most align with Donald Trump, his brand of politics and the big lie ‘that the election was stolen,’ spokesman Geoff Burgan said. of the Democratic Attorneys General Association. .
Johnny Koremenos, a spokesman for the Association of Republican Attorneys General, declined to directly answer questions left by voicemail and email about whether Republican attorneys general might seek to undermine legal election results. In a statement, he said “2002 will be a great year for Republican attorney general candidates.”
In Michigan, where candidates are chosen at state party conventions rather than primaries, former state House speaker Tom Leonard is hoping for revenge against incumbent Democrat Dana Nessel.
But first, Leonard, who boasts of being named the most conservative lawmaker in the state, must defeat two GOP opponents at a party convention. One of them is Matthew DePerno, a lawyer who sued County Antrim in Michigan, claiming that voting machines there recorded votes for Trump as being for Biden in the 2020 election. been rejected.
While Leonard focuses on issues like reducing violent crime, DePerno sees voter fraud as a driving issue — though Republicans themselves find no evidence of systemic fraud in the state. He has Trump’s support.
“That says it all,” said David Dulio, a political scientist at Oakland University in Michigan. “He has certainly hitched his wagon to Donald Trump, counting on the Trump brand to have strength in this election.”
DePerno did not respond to interview requests.