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The race to replace Lisa Madigan: Meet the attorney general candidates

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CHICAGO — The Republican and Democrat in the race for Illinois attorney general have areas of agreement. But in the final days of the campaign, the charismatic attorneys are duking it out over ideology and party loyalty.

Lisa Madigan has held the job for 15 years. But on November 6, Illinois voters will choose a new attorney general.

The Democrat is state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago. The Republican is Champaign-Urbana attorney Erika Harold.

Raoul has had his eye on the job for years. As soon as Madigan announced she was out, he jumped in.

“I have wanted this job,” Raoul said. “As she puts it, it’s a dream job. It’s a job where you can be an advocate for people on a whole lot of levels, and that’s what I dreamed about when I was a first-year law student.”

In 2004, Raoul took the state senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. In the legislature, Raoul led the effort to abolish the state’s death penalty and to institute criminal justice reform measures.

As attorney general, Raoul says he’ll prioritize taking on gun violence.

“I can recall when my daughter was 11, my son was 13, there was gun violence outside,” Raoul said. My family “hit the floor, and a 13-year-old boy was shot in the leg. With those types of experiences, this issue is not just an issue that I’m inspired to work on based on reading newspapers or watching news stories. It’s a personal one.”

Raoul is a prostate cancer survivor who said he was the beneficiary of early detection. He wants to protect access to health care.

Harold vows to take a more aggressive stance on public corruption. In August, Gov. Bruce Rauner wrote Harold campaign a check, saying she would prosecute Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“I’m not going after any particular person,” Harold said. “To enter office with a political agenda in that way would be an abuse of that office.”

Harold wants to advocate for women and victims. She says she was bullied and harassed in high school.

“That experience of feeling very marginalized and powerless is what ultimately motivated me to try to become an attorney,” Harold said. “I wanted to have the skills not only to be able to stand up … for myself but also to be able to stand up and be a powerful advocate for other people.”

Her past comments on victims of sexual harassment have come up in the campaign.

Harold won Miss America in 2003. It helped her pay for Harvard Law School.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.”

For more than a decade, Harold has worked in a church's prison ministry.

“I was able to hear the stories of people who were incarcerated,” Harold said, “and hear about some of the challenges they had faced growing up, the lack of support systems that they have — and it really changed my view of what we should be doing within our criminal justice system.”

Both candidates say they’re committed to continuing Chicago police oversight reform. But there are differences, and the campaign attacks are flying.

Harold is painting Raoul as a political insider. A loyal Democrat, Raoul won the backing on the Cook County Democratic Party in the primary. Raoul calls Harold extreme, slamming views on adoption by same-sex couples that she shared when she was 19.

An attack ad says, “We know she’d discriminate against a loving gay couple who want to adopt a child, favoring an abusive straight couple instead.”

Harold says that commercial is false. Her views have evolved. In March, she told WGN News, “It was a different era, and I was wrong with my prior position.”

Harold’s stance on same-sex marriage has come under scrutiny. When asked her position on the topic, Harold said, “It’s the law of the land, and I wouldn’t do anything to undo it.”

Are you personally comfortable with same-sex marriage?

“It’s the law of the land. I would do nothing to undo it.”

Voters can also go third party. Bubba Harsy is the Libertarian Party candidate.

“We have Mr. Raoul, who is very much supported by the Democrat Party,” he said. “We have Ms. Harold, who is strongly backed by Gov. Rauner and the Republican Party. So as a voter, I’m concerned maybe they won’t look out for the interest of the people of Illinois in their entirety and might just focus on their own political interest.”

Recent polls have Raoul in the lead, but a large number of voters are still undecided.

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