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National policy issues at stake in Pennsylvania's attorney general election

HARRISBURG (AP) — National political issues will guide the campaign for Pennsylvania's next attorney general, a post that played a major role — and gained national prominence — in fighting lawsuits aimed at keeping Donald Trump in power , after losing the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.

The nominees are Democrat Eugene DePasquale, the state's former twice-elected comptroller, and Republican

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale

Mark Moran/AP

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale

the twice-elected York County district attorney, will incorporate the messages they honed in their primary campaigns into their general election campaign in November.

DePasquale says his top two priorities reflect concerns he's heard from Democratic primary voters: protecting elections and abortion rights.

DePasquale said Pennsylvanians view the state's top law enforcement agency differently after Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights.

His role in law enforcement remains important, DePasquale said. “But abortion rights, democracy and voting rights have been expressed to me over and over again by voters.”

Sunday says the fentanyl crisis is “the number one issue facing Pennsylvanians,” and he packages it into a national GOP talking point in an election year in which Trump is targeting Biden’s immigration policies: “Every state is a border state.”

Sunday said his focus on fentanyl is not political but reflects his experiences both as a district attorney and on the campaign trail.

“When I started talking about the things I did as an elected prosecutor, I was actually shocked at how many people waited to speak to me privately after every event to tell me they had a child, who died of an overdose. a brother who died of an overdose,” Sunday said in an interview.

The core of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office is prosecuting fraudsters, drug traffickers, gun traffickers, public corruption and environmental crimes while defending state agencies against lawsuits.

But attorneys general are also becoming increasingly political, reflecting the deep polarization of the country's two major parties, said Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University.

As part of that, they have become key players in shaping national policy by increasingly challenging federal laws and regulations in court, mostly in groups of Republican-led states or Democratic-led states, Nolette said.

In interviews, both DePasquale and Sunday nodded to the need for safe communities and said they would combat violent crime. They also spoke about the need to address the underlying causes of crime, such as addiction and mental illness.

When it comes to combating fentanyl, they offer similar answers: Work with all levels of government and the treatment community.

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are estimated to kill more than 150 Americans every day, and Biden's administration says it has accelerated efforts to stop the flow into the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, more than 90% of illegally imported fentanyl is seized at the southwest border and is smuggled primarily in vehicles driven by U.S. citizens.

Both say they will defend Pennsylvania's law legalizing abortions up to 23 weeks of pregnancy.

However, Sunday declined to discuss his position on abortion rights, saying, “I am not running for state legislator.”

DePasquale said he supports abortion rights and predicted that the attorney general will be asked to protect women who come to Pennsylvania for abortions from officials in anti-abortion states who might try to prosecute them or access their medical records to get.

Fifteen Democratic-controlled states have laws intended to protect providers and others from such prosecutions.

Another possibility is that Pennsylvania's next attorney general – due to be sworn in in January – will face litigation related to November's presidential election, when the state is expected to be a leading battleground state again.

Both Sunday and DePasquale say they are prepared for this possibility.

Sunday said he did not doubt Biden won the 2020 election, but he did not reject Trump's baseless claims that widespread fraud changed the outcome in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. Sunday said he could only speak to the voter fraud allegations his office was investigating in York County.

Officials in Trump's own administration said they found no evidence of fraud.

DePasquale said there should be no doubt about the validity of the 2020 election and said there was a principle to accept multiple court decisions that rejected Trump's claims of voter fraud.

“And if you’re not willing to accept that,” DePasquale said, “then I wonder if you even support upholding the rule of law in Pennsylvania.”

Anna Harden

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