Koster Claims Victory in Missouri Attorney General Race

August 7, 2008

Attorney general candidate Chris Koster was dogged throughout the Democratic primary about whether he was a true-blue Democrat. Enough Democrats decided he was.

Koster, a state senator who switched from the Republican to Democratic party a year ago, declared victory in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary with a razor-thin advantage over state Rep. Margaret Donnelly.

But his margin of 854 votes, out of 345,790 cast in complete but unofficial results, was so close that Donnelly is considering asking for a re-count.

When races are decided by less than 1 percentage point, state law allows the second-place candidate to request a re-count. That can occur after the results are officially certified. The last statewide re-count came in a Republican state auditor primary in 2006.

When asked about a re-count, Donnelly campaign spokesman Daniel Nava said that “we’re in the process of figuring out if we’re going to.”

The close race is the first time Democrats have had to pick a new attorney general candidate since Jay Nixon won a four-way 1992 primary. Nixon, now the Democratic governor candidate, is the state’s longest serving attorney general.

Koster, a former Cass County prosecutor from Harrisonville, won the most counties Tuesday by claiming victories through most of the southwest and southern portions of the state. But Donnelly took nearly half the votes in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis.

The primary campaign between Koster, Donnelly and Rep. Jeff Harris was rancorous, with most of the criticism aimed at Koster. Molly Williams, a Kansas City lawyer and social studies teacher, also sought the Democratic nod but did not campaign or raise money.

Koster said the voters had “reconfirmed” his decision to leave the Republican Party last year right before he formally announced his campaign for attorney general.

“Primaries are always challenging, and I believe that the Democratic Party can do a good job of coming together to ensure we keep the attorney general’s office,” he said.

Sen. Michael Gibbons, of Kirkwood, was the only Republican on Tuesday’s ballot.

The three major Democratic candidates sparred over qualifications, fundraising, party credentials and even whether the attorney general office’s primary duties are criminal prosecutions or consumer protection. In most of the tussles, Harris and Donnelly seemed to tag-team against Koster.

Harris, the former House minority leader, and Donnelly focused their criticisms on the fundraising tactics and party bona fides of Koster.

The Associated Press reported in early July that Koster’s paid campaign staffers had coordinated the shuffling of money among various committees so that big donors could give more than otherwise allowed by contribution limits.

Koster, who raised substantially more money than his rivals, contends his fundraising efforts were legal. He has argued that his support for stem cell research, organized labor and other issues fit in the beliefs of the Democratic Party.

Koster’s campaign has emphasized law enforcement and aired numerous television ads billing himself as “all prosecutor, no politics.” Harris and Donnelly, meanwhile, focused on consumer protections, floating proposals aimed at scams and consumer annoyances such as telemarketers and robo-calls.

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