Republicans, Democrats Fail to Flip Attorney General Seats

Chester County, Pa. election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots at West Chester University, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in West Chester.

Chester County, Pa. election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots at West Chester University, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in West Chester. AP Photo/Matt Slocum


Connecting state and local government leaders

Ten states held elections for the office of attorney general this year.

Republican and Democrat state attorneys general held their ground in the races up for election this year, with neither party able to wrestle control from the other in this week’s elections.  

Ten states held elections for state AGs this year and in eight decided races, Republicans maintained control in five states and Democrats held control in three states. Two states—Pennsylvania and North Carolina—remained too close to call Thursday but Democratic incumbents Josh Shapiro and Josh Stein both held leads in their races.  

“The real bottom line in these 10 races that were on the ballot was stability,” said Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University who studies state attorneys general.

Republicans will continue to hold the majority of state attorneys general offices in the country, with control of at least 26 offices overall regardless of the outcome of the two outstanding races.

The Republican Attorneys General Association framed the results as an indictment of Democrat policies, despite the GOP’s failure to take control of offices in more states. 

“It is clear that Americans voted Republican in order to restore the rule of law and end Democrat-sanctioned chaos, destruction of small businesses and burning of neighborhoods,” said RAGA spokeswoman Kelly Laco.

The results leave Republicans with plenty of alliances to pursue litigation against a Democratic White House in the growing likelihood that former vice president Joe Biden wins the presidency.

“If Biden pulls this out, there will be a bunch of Republican AGs challenging Biden’s policies—be it regulatory actions or energy policies,” said Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia Attorney General and member of the State Attorneys General Group at Cozen O’Connor law firm.

“You are going to see an equal number of challenges from Republican AGs that you’ve seen during the Trump administration from Democratic AGs,” Kilgore said. “Instead of being California and New York it will be Texas and Florida.”

A Biden administration would likely look to alliances with state attorneys general to boost enforcement and regulation, particularly when it comes to federal oversight of business practices, said Sean Riley, a former chief deputy attorney general in Kentucky.

“A significant consequence of this will be increased agency cooperation with AGs, effectively acting as a force-multiplier to AG multi-state investigations of business,” Riley wrote in a recent analysis.

Both Montana and Indiana attorneys general offices were open seats this year, and Democrats targeted both states for possible flips. The Democrat Attorneys General Association raised record-breaking amounts to fund Democrat challengers. But DAGA asserted that the electoral map favored Republicans this year, and said holding even would be a victory.  

“Republicans failing to pick up a single seat this cycle would be a massive institutional failure for them,” DAGA wrote in a memo before the election.

DAGA officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. 

Overall, Republican turnout for President Trump in both Montana and Indiana overwhelmed the Democratic campaigns in those states, political experts said. 

In Montana, Republican Attorney General Tim Fox was term limited and Democrats considered the race in play because the state has had Democratic attorneys general in the past, Kilgore said. But Republican Austin Knudsen ultimately won with about 58% of the vote.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill lost the Republican parties’ nomination for his seat after he faced sexual harassment allegations and had his law license suspended.

Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita earned the nomination instead and was elected Tuesday on promises to be tough on crime and to support limited government leadership.

“Anytime you have a whiff of scandal like that there is an opening for the other party, but that didn’t happen,” Nolette said.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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