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Democrats gather in Springfield, Mo.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The three Democrats vying to replace Attorney General Jay Nixon tried to distinguish themselves before a crowd of party activists and leaders at the start of Jackson Day 2008.
State Reps. Margaret Donnelly and Jeff Harris and Sen. Chris Koster each spoke Saturday during the Democratic Alliance breakfast. Voters will choose between the three candidates during the Aug. 5 primary. The winner will face term-limited Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons in the November general election.
Nixon, a Democrat, is running for governor.
Koster, a former Republican who switched parties last summer, said he's the only candidate who has been one of Missouri's front-line prosecutors. The former Cass County prosecutor told stories of interrogating and prosecuting murderers and molesters, dredging lakes for bodies and climbing down to the bottom of a well to retrieve a murder weapon.
"If experience matters in the state's top law enforcement job, then what I wanted to tell you this morning is that I've been there," said Koster, a former assistant attorney general from Harrisonville. "No other candidate in this race can tell you those stories."
So far, Koster is the money leader in the race. On Tuesday, Koster's campaign reported raising about $610,000 in the first 90 days of this year. Records show Harris and Donnelly lagged far behind, raising $161,000 and $164,000, respectively.
Harris, a former assistant attorney general under Nixon, has painted Koster as a Republican, even contending his 7-month-old daughter has been a Democrat longer than Koster.
"Anybody who stands up here and tells you or anybody you talk to who says this office is about prosecuting hard-core criminals, that's not the case," Harris said. "This office is about making sure that everybody has a level playing field."
By statute, the attorney general cannot file charges. But he or she can use teams of lawyers to build cases against criminals and then persuade county prosecutors to file charges.
Donnelly, a three-term representative from St. Louis County, said she would place great emphasis on consumer protection and go after predatory lenders.
She is pursuing legislation to prohibit the sale of unsafe toys, monitor the sale of controlled substances, limit the interest rates for payday loans to 36 percent and make more government documents open through the state's Sunshine Law.
"As your next attorney general, you will never doubt where I stand on those Democratic values," Donnelly said.