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December 07, 2004

Can an Attorney General win?

Item: the no-nonsense Attorney General of a blue state has decided to take on the incumbent "moderate" Republican Governor in 2006.  I'm actually talking about New York's Eliot Spitzer, who has just made it official, but it could just as easily be local boy Tom Reilly.

Reilly is clearly thinking hard about following Spitzer's lead here in the Bay State, and barring some unforeseen disaster, he will probably throw his hat into the ring.  But can he avoid the pitfalls that did in Scott Harshbarger, another Mass. Attorney General who tried to make the transition to the corner office?  Successful prosecutors tend to be hardasses ("people skills" don't win murder cases), and Reilly (like Harshbarger) certainly fits that bill.  And it may be tough for a hardass to convince the electorate that he or she should be the chief executive, as opposed to the chief law enforcement officer (see page 8 of this July 2004 poll showing that the margin by which people would rather "hang out ... over a beer or coffee" with Bush than Kerry was not that different from the margin by which Bush won the popular vote - and the age and gender breakdowns in the "have a beer" poll match the exit poll breakdowns surprisingly well).  Nobody cares if they like their Attorney General.  But people want to like their Governor (and their President).

So can Reilly close the charisma gap with His Excellency?  He'll have to if he wants to beat him.  Do you think there's a better candidate out there?

Posted by David at 11:25 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink


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Attorneys General have very limited criminal responsibilities, and even district attorneys (the municipal-level version of the AG, not assistant ags, who tend to do civil litigation), tend not to have to try cases themselves.

AGs run for (and often win)governerships all the time. The old joke amongst AGs and AAGs that I know is that AG stands for aspiring governor. Not sure this post makes much sense in that regard.

Posted by: Justin | Dec 13, 2004 11:00:36 PM

Justin, are you from around here? Reilly was a county DA before he was state AG, and he's a criminal guy all the way (although I'm amused to notice that his "official" bio doesn't even mention his time as DA - maybe he's aware of the PR problem that prosecutors sometimes face). He's a real johnny-come-lately to civil matters. Some AGs may fit the mold you describe, but Reilly is not one of them.

Posted by: David | Dec 21, 2004 12:08:46 AM

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