California's next attorney general must deal with a federal court challenge on prison overcrowding, a battle over gay marriage, how to proceed if a marijuana-legalization ballot measure passes, and whether to follow other states in cracking down on illegal immigration, among many issues, says Stateline.org. Voters have historically focused on one issue above all others in the attorney general’s race – how tough the candidate is on crime, even though it's local district attorneys who are responsible for criminal prosecutions.
A Field poll this summer found 70 percent of Californians backing the death penalty. That's why in this historically Democratic state, the Democratic candidate for AG, a twice-elected San Francisco district attorney, Kamala Harris, is widely thought to face an uphill battle in November against Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley. In contrast to Cooley, who is an unambiguous supporter of the death penalty, Harris personally opposes capital punishment, typically favoring life without parole. Harris has pledged to carry out capital punishment whenever her office handles a death row appeal, the same stance as current AG (and gubernatorial nominee) Jerry Brown, who also personally opposes the death penalty. Harris' reputation for hesitancy in seeking capital punishment could be one of the biggest challenges she faces on the campaign trail.