- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - With just weeks to go before Election Day, the two candidates for Massachusetts attorney general are scrambling to reach out to new voters and maintain enthusiasm among their core supporters while offering competing visions for the state’s top law enforcement office.

For Republican candidate John Miller, the job may be tougher as he races to introduce himself to voters. Unlike Democratic candidate Maura Healey, the Winchester lawyer faced no primary opponents and only recently began airing television ads.

Healey’s job is different. She has to maintain the momentum she enjoyed coming off a hard-fought primary win while not taking the general election for granted despite Massachusetts’ history of electing Democrats to statewide office.

Both candidates are hoping to fill the seat left open by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s decision to run for governor.

Miller is quick to point out areas where he differs with Coakley and Healey. That includes the issue of for-profit schools.

Coakley has pushed new regulations designed in part to prohibit misleading advertising by for-profit schools. The Massachusetts Association of Private Career Schools responded by suing Coakley, saying the regulations are unnecessary and a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Miller agrees the regulations are too sweeping and Coakley should have instead tried to reach out to the association to see if the schools could do a better job at discouraging predatory practices among their ranks.

“If there are bad schools out there, go out and find them and shut them down,” Miller said in an interview with The Associated Press. “You take your wrongdoers one at a time.”

Healey supports Coakley’s approach, saying many of the schools have targeted veterans and lower-income women without providing the education or training needed to help them land jobs.

“That is an industry that has been self-regulating. They’ve done a lousy job at it,” Healey told the AP.

For Miller, the handling of the for-profit schools issue is indicative of a larger problem.

He said because so many recent attorney generals, including Coakley, come from a prosecutorial background, they lack the skills needed to think more broadly about ways to discourage waste, fraud and abuse instead of just chasing offenders after the fact.

“We’ve been very reactive in the AG’s office. We don’t have a leader up there who knows how to do good lawyering,” said Miller. “You can’t wait for someone to steal and then prosecute that case and think that you’re going to change the future.”

For Healey, who spent the last seven years in the attorney general’s office before stepping down to launch her campaign, the central question is who has the experience needed to lead the office and who will be ready to take charge on day one.

Healey also defended Coakley’s decision to defend the state Department of Children and Families against a case filed by a New York-based child welfare group - a decision that has been criticized by Coakley’s Republican challenger Charlie Baker, who said Coakley should have settled the case instead.

While Healey said Coakley made the right call, she also acknowledged “there could be instances as attorney general when a case comes in and you have to make a decision - based on the facts and the law and what we know - this is indefensible.”

“You’d hope those instances are far and few between,” Healey added.

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