Minnesota: Minn AG: Hatch protege or rare GOP winner?

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesotans had a choice between a protege of outgoing Attorney General Mike Hatch and a tough-on-crime state legislator when they voted for the state's new top lawyer Tuesday.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesotans had a choice between a protege of outgoing Attorney General Mike Hatch and a tough-on-crime state legislator when they voted for the state's new top lawyer Tuesday.

DFLer Lori Swanson, the state's solicitor general, was a late entry into the attorney general's race after the party's endorsed candidate, Rep. Matt Entenza, abruptly dropped out of the race in July. By contrast, Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, had been running since February 2005.

Johnson hoped to become the first Republican to win the office in 40 years. A Swanson victory would make her the state's first female attorney general. John James of the Independence Party was also running.

In other constitutional officer races:

--Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, pursued a third term. Democrats backed Mark Ritchie, who founded a nonprofit that promotes sustainable development. Joel Spoonheim was the Independence Party candidate.


--State Auditor Pat Anderson, another Republican, sought a second term as the state's chief financial watchdog against former state Rep. Rebecca Otto, DFL-Marine on St. Croix. Lucy Gerold of the Independence Party was the other major-party candidate.


Swanson touted her record as solicitor general -- the top litigator in Hatch's office -- and said her experience would let her hit the ground running. She played leading roles in the high-profile investigations Hatch launched into the health care industry and led his consumer services division. She pledged to keep fighting for health care reform and against sexual predators and meth dealers. This was her first run for public office.

Johnson, a three-term state representative, tried to make the race a referendum on Hatch's performance as attorney general and said he wanted to shift the focus to public safety. He helped lead a crackdown on methamphetamine that required pharmacies to keep cold medications containing pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient for meth -- behind the counter. He was also one of the main backers of eminent domain reform, which curbed local governments' ability to seize private property.

Kiffmeyer was a lightning rod for Democrats who accused her of politicizing a traditionally nonpartisan office that oversees elections. She argued for tighter procedures that she said were needed to prevent vote fraud and ensure public confidence in elections. But DFLers said she was really trying to suppress turnout among traditionally Democratic groups. She countered that the state's already high turnout rose under her watch, leading the nation in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Ritchie pledged to make it easier for younger people, soldiers, new citizens, people with disabilities and minorities to vote. In 1986 he founded the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable development and rural communities. In 2004, he took a leave from that group to lead National Voice, a group that claimed credit for registering and turning out over 5 million new voters nationwide.

Anderson said she reinvigorated the watchdog functions of the state auditor's office -- which oversees how counties, cities, school districts and other local units of government manage their money -- holding them to higher standards than ever before.

Otto, who served one term in the House before being defeated for re-election in 2004, claimed Anderson's numbers often didn't add up. Otto said she'd restore the independence of the auditor's office instead of pushing a partisan agenda.

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