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Quiet fight for Minnesota attorney general could get loud in only debate

Republican state Sen. Scott Newman and Brandan Borgos of the Independence Party get one shot at Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. A televised debate the Saturday before Election Day is the only time Swanson will face her two major party ch...

Republican state Sen. Scott Newman and Brandan Borgos of the Independence Party get one shot at Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

A televised debate the Saturday before Election Day is the only time Swanson will face her two major party challengers. Her re-election strategy, so far, has been to avoid debating them or responding to their criticism. That's kept the race for Minnesota's top legal officer among the quietest of this year's statewide campaigns.

Newman, though, plans to make some noise Saturday during the debate as he tries to unseat Swanson, a two-term Democrat.

He said he'll use the opportunity to share a simple message: "The attorney general's office has become exceedingly partisan. I think that's wrong, and I think you need a new attorney general."

Democrats have controlled the attorney general's office for 43 years and that's created a sense of entitlement, he said, adding that Swanson has lined up with Democratic positions on key state legal issues, including online voter registration, constitutional amendments and the unionization of government-subsidized child care providers.

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The absence of debates hasn't stopped Newman and other challengers from taking frequent jabs at the incumbent. But Swanson brushes it off.

"You know, people running for office, they say all sorts of things, right?" Swanson said in a phone interview.

She said she's running on an eight-year record of directly affecting people's lives for the better and rejected Newman's charge of partisanship.

"There's nothing political about enforcing the law," she said. "I have disregarded politics, set politics aside and really focused on putting people first."

Swanson's most visible work over the past eight years has been on consumer protection. She's taken on adoption agencies, debt collectors and for-profit colleges. Swanson said she wants keep "corporate shenanigans" out of Minnesota.

"There are some states in the country that are known as being havens of fraud. You'll see bad companies kind of park their headquarters there and emanate their fraud outward around the country," Swanson said. "That's not the situation we have in Minnesota, and by taking these enforcement actions, I want to make sure we keep it that way."

Swanson opposes the legalizing marijuana. Borgos, the IP candidate and former board chair of the legalization group Minnesota NORML, has made it a centerpiece of his campaign. He's also talking about personal privacy issues and the need for more open government but Borgos said the cannabis issue is what helps him connect with many potential voters.

"It's been kind of an interesting experience, to go out and talk to people about politics and not seeing them engaged or involved. But then you put out a poster that says 'legalize cannabis,' and now all of a sudden people want to come and talk to you," he said. "And they're willing to talk about a number of other issues, too."

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The three minor-party hopefuls for attorney general will not be part of the Saturday debate but are still pressing their issues.

Green Party candidate Andy Dawkins, a former DFL state representative from St. Paul, also lists legalized cannabis among his top campaign issues. Dawkins is also taking plenty of shots at Swanson, especially on gun control and environmental protection.

"I don't think that she's worried about my spoiling her victory party," Dawkins said. "I want to make enough of a dent in her column that Democrats pay attention to who might be next, unless they start to appeal" to Green Party voters, he added.

Dawkins hopes to get at least 5 percent of the vote, which return the Green Party to major-party status. Libertarian Party candidate Mary O'Connor and Legal Marijuana Now candidate Dan Vacek are also on the ballot.

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Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard in Brainerd at 88.3 FM or at MPRnews.org.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2014
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