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New blood in attorney race

The three lawyers vying for the $92,000-a-year job as South Carolina attorney general in the June 8 Republican primary are in some ways strikingly similar.

Robert Bolchoz, Leighton Lord and Alan Wilson are all under 50. None has run for major office before.

All have respectable personal, political and professional pedigrees and the sorts of personalities that have driven them to test themselves.

Bolchoz, 46, for example, is a graduate of The Citadel, the Charleston military college once known for hazing underclassmen. Lord, 47, is a triathlete who competes in mountain bike and open-water swimming events. Wilson, 36, served a tour of duty in Iraq as an artillery field officer from 2004 to 2005 - a time when that whole country was a combat zone.

Each is subject to criticism.

One of Bolchoz's main campaign contributors, for example, is Michael DeLeon, once a major video poker operator.

It took Wilson, the son of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of Springdale, two tries to pass the bar exam and get his law license.

Lord, a former managing partner of Nexsen Pruet, the state's second-largest law firm at 180 lawyers, has not prosecuted criminal cases. Of the attorney general's 68 lawyers, 52 work criminal cases - prosecuting crimes including dogfighting, securities fraud and domestic violence.

Whoever wins the three-way GOP primary will face the lone Democrat seeking the job in November - Columbia lawyer Matthew Richardson, 37. Richardson has no opposition in his party's June primary for the job now held by two-term incumbent Henry McMaster, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Although the attorney general's race gets far less attention than the governor's race, it is a key post. An attorney general has a bully pulpit and can launch high-profile crime initiatives. McMaster, for example, has targeted Internet sex predators, criminal domestic violence and animal cruelty.

An attorney general also decides which, if any, lawsuits the state files or joins against businesses, other state governments or the federal government. For example, McMaster's predecessor, Charlie Condon, signed on to a nationwide lawsuit against tobacco companies that brought the state $2 billion to compensate for the health hazards of cigarettes.

A crucial difference among the three GOP contenders is in fundraising.

Lord has raised, by far, the most from individual contributors, having raised $426,760 through April 10.

Wilson at one point had a larger war chest - $459,198. But that figure included a $250,000 loan he got - and since has repaid - from Lexington's First Community Bank.

If Wilson's $250,000 loan is subtracted from his April 10 fundraising total, he trails Lord and Bolchoz. As of April 10, Bolchoz had raised $286,528.

Fundraising is important in down-ticket political races where no candidate is well known, said Sid Bedingfield, visiting journalism professor at the University of South Carolina.

Money translates into the ability to produce and run television ads, and the more ads, the more name recognition, and the more name recognition, often the more votes, Bedingfield said.

"In a race with three candidates who aren't well known, I expect the final push on television could be decisive," Bedingfield said.

In keeping with their personalities and legal training, all three of the GOP candidates quickly can go on the attack.

Asked about being the youngest in the race, war veteran Wilson said, "Nobody asked me my age when I was being shot at in Iraq."

Asked about not having any experience as a criminal prosecutor, Lord said he worked with a U.S. Senate subcommittee on criminal matters for four years. And, he adds, the law firm he oversaw had 180 lawyers, more than twice as many as the attorney general's office.

"I've proven I can manage complex legal matters," said Lord. "It's true our Constitution says the attorney general should be the state's chief prosecutor. But that's an outdated Constitution. It was written in 1895 when we didn't have any solicitors. We now have 16 solicitors and 700 assistant solicitors."

Asked about a contribution by former video poker operator DeLeon of Goose Creek, Bolchoz said he intends to strictly enforce state laws against video poker. Bolchoz added that his legal work 18 months ago for DeLeon, who was seeking to get various gaming devices declared legal, will not affect that enforcement.

Here are some points each candidate emphasizes:

Bolchoz touts his work as a prosecutor in Charleston County and also as chief deputy attorney general under former Attorney General Condon.

Lord said he views the attorney general's office as the "state's law firm. I intend to see that it's run well, and run in the best interests of the people. I have the most experience to run it well." Lord also said he would partner as often as possible with the governor to seek reform in the state's criminal justice system.

Wilson said he intends to be the state's chief prosecutor, occasionally handling cases in court along with his trial attorneys. Wilson said his years as a hands-on prosecutor in the 11th Circuit solicitor's office and the attorney general's office mean he is more qualified than the other two candidates.