In the Democratic primary for the attorney general, three well-credentialed candidates are vying for the spotlight

Or Quentin Palfrey, a voting rights lawyer and former official in the Obama and Biden administrations, portraying himself as the real progressive in the race?

With less than three months to go before the primary election, the three Democratic candidates for Massachusetts attorney general are vying for position and attention in a bottom-ball race still far from the minds of vacationing voters. Each presents itself as a progressive, although their liberal good faith varies. Each vows to use the office not only to protect state residents, but also to shape national policy, mounting the difficult task of bringing the country closer to Massachusetts on issues such as gun control and the ‘abortion. And all three have strong credentials, making voters’ choice more subtle which may hinge on the candidates’ personal stories – and the money they raise to share them.

“It speaks to the strengths of the Democratic Party here in Massachusetts that they can bring three such strong candidates to the race,” said Marian Ryan, the Middlesex District Attorney who has yet to endorse any candidate.

The race took on added importance after the Democratic gubernatorial primary effectively ended last month with the departure of state Senator Sonia Chang-Dίaz. Given the likelihood of a Democratic winner in November’s general election, the September primary will almost certainly crown Massachusetts’ next attorney general, and it will serve as a measure of the type of Democratic voters who prefer this cycle. But it remains to be seen how much attention voters will give to a race to the bottom in a year without a competitive primary for governor or president.

Seen elsewhere as a superficial and routine position, the job of Attorney General of Massachusetts has expanded to a bully pulpit for politically savvy lawyers with loftier electoral ambitions. Democratic gubernatorial leader and current attorney general Maura Healey has used the platform to take to the national stage, repeatedly suing Donald Trump’s administration and suing companies such as Purdue Pharma and ExxonMobil.

“The Massachusetts attorney general’s office has been overweight for a long time,” Palfrey said.

Topping fundraisers and polls, Campbell, 40, is widely seen as the race leader forerunner. Campbell grew up in Roxbury, living with relatives and in foster care after losing her mother in a car accident and her father in prison. Her academic acumen propelled her to Boston Latin School, Princeton, and UCLA Law School, and out of the school-to-prison pipeline that cost her two brothers. Campbell became a lawyer in Beacon Hill and the first black woman elected president of the Boston City Council; his twin brother Andre died at age 29 in the custody of the Department of Correction while facing home invasion charges.

Her story makes this campaign personal, Campbell said.

“How can we do better to improve these systems so that no other family goes through this? Campbell said. Issues in the Corrections Department “have never really been prioritized,” she added, “but they would be under my direction.”

Campbell failed in his bid last year for mayor of Boston but gained name recognition even in the most remote corners of the state, a crucial early advantage. she won the support of prominent Massachusetts Democrats, including Senator Edward J. Markey, Representative Ayanna Pressley, Deputy Speaker of the House Katherine Clark and three former Massachusetts attorneys general.

Liss-Riordan is building on her reputation as one of the nation’s foremost labor attorneys, having represented restaurant workers, janitors and sex workers and faced corporations as large as Uber, Lyft and Amazon. Working with a coalition of labor groups, she opposed a ballot measure asking Massachusetts voters to classify ride-hailing drivers as independent contractors, and won a major victory this month when the highest court of the state withdrew the question from the ballot.

Perhaps Liss-Riordan’s greatest strength is her support of the labor movement, which has come out in force for her. She said she did not seek approval from the police unions.

Another plus: Liss-Riordan, 53, is expected to contribute significant amounts of her own money to her campaign, as she did during her failed bid for the US Senate in 2018, when she lent herself $3million dollars. When she had to set herself a spending cap in this race, she chose $12 million — a threshold she doesn’t expect to hit, but one that underscores the significant resources at her disposal.

Funding her own campaign, Liss-Riordan said, means she’s “not beholden to anyone.”

“I’m going to do what I have to do to get the message out,” she said. “I am not indebted to companies. I fight corporations and I defeat them.

For his part, Palfrey brings experience in government and as a voting rights lawyer. Palfrey, 48, is the only candidate to have worked in the attorney general’s office, where he led the health care division from 2007 to 2009. He served under Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and politics is in his blood: he is a great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt.

In a major victory for his campaign, Palfrey edged out Campbell to win the endorsement of Democrats at the party convention early last month. He’s been familiar to party strategists and voters since 2018, when he secured the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, though he ultimately lost to the Republican gubernatorial slate by 34 percentage points.

Palfrey is also the pick of several prominent progressive bands. But support from activists does not always translate into success with the broader primary electorate – or with the donor class. Palfrey is the only AG nominee who is opted for the state’s public funding program, and his anemic fundraising numbers have some strategists wondering if he still has a path to victory.

Still, he projected his confidence in a recent interview, saying “where we are in this race is where the voters are.”

The challenge facing all three candidates is making sure voters across the state know their names, which means expensive TV ads.

“What really matters now is who has the money to get their message across and move undecided voters,” said Tony Cignoli, a western Massachusetts-based Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with the candidates. . The three candidates share a lot of priorities, he said, so “what’s going to make their story stand out?”

For the most part, it’s Palfrey and Liss-Riordan looking to distinguish themselves from Campbell, whom they’ve consistently chased with nearly identical attacks. Opponents say Campbell is not progressive enough and castigate her for not pledging to keep super PAC money out of the election. The super PAC that backed Campbell in the mayoral race has indicated he won’t spend in this election, but an outside environmental group is backing her. Independent spending committees are not subject to the same contribution limits and can accept money from companies otherwise prohibited from contributing to PACs. Campbell said she is accountable to voters, not corporations.

It remains to be seen how much the fundraising fights will move voters.

In 2020, for example, Markey declined his opponents’ urging to sign a “people’s pledge” barring outside spending from entering the Senate race, and he received significant support from groups. external environments. He was nevertheless elected as a progressive darling.

Right now, all three candidates are “playing on inside baseball stuff, because they’re the ones paying attention,” said Scott Ferson, a Democratic consultant who doesn’t work for any of the candidates. Soon, however, candidate biographies will be the most influential, he said.

“When the ads go out,” Ferson said, voters “will be making a choice between [people] they really meet for the first time.


Emma Platoff can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.

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