- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Two Democrats seeking to be the state’s next attorney general are touting leadership and experience as they scramble for votes in the waning days of a spirited primary campaign that appears headed for a close result.

Maura Healey, a former assistant attorney general, and former state Sen. Warren Tolman meet in Tuesday’s Democratic primary with the winner moving on to face the lone Republican candidate, attorney John Miller, in November.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, is running for governor.

Polling has suggested a tight race between Tolman and Healey, who made separate pitches to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

A telephone poll of 685 likely Democratic primary voters conducted from Aug. 25-31 by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and WHDH-TV found more than one in four still undecided between Tolman and Healey. Among those who stated a preference, 39 percent backed Tolman and 34 percent Healey, a result roughly within the poll’s margin of error.

A onetime Harvard University basketball star, Healey said she took a 70 percent pay cut to leave private law seven years ago and join the attorney general’s office as chief of the civil rights division. In that post, she helped lead an effort to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which critics said prevented legally married gay couples in Massachusetts from obtaining certain federal benefits.

Healey said her experience qualifies her to now lead “the people’s law firm,” an office she said had tremendous potential to help ordinary citizens and disadvantaged people overcome more powerful special interests.

But Healey also sought to reassure business leaders in the audience that she would also respect their interests, telling them: “You will always have a seat at the table.”

Tolman represented Watertown for eight years in the Legislature and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002.

He cited his leadership as a lawmaker on several issues, notably passage of a bill opposed by the tobacco industry that among other things required more accurate disclosure of nicotine yields, additives and other cigarette ingredients.

Both his parents died in the same year from smoking-related illnesses, Tolman said.

He promised a similarly concerted effort to end a scourge of opioid abuse by expanding access to substance abuse and mental health treatment, and pressuring drug companies to make prescription painkillers safe and tamper resistant.

“Everything has to be on the table folks, this is a crisis,” he told the gathering.

Healey also said she had a detailed plan, including expanded treatment options, to fight the overdose epidemic and the candidates found agreement on other issues, including protection of abortion rights and a push to require fingerprint trigger locks on all guns.

The race heated up last week after Tolman used the word “unbecoming” during a debate, a term Healey supporters angrily decried as sexist. Tolman later said he was sorry if he had offended anyone.

Asked Wednesday about criticism that her campaign had overreacted, Healey offered a basketball analogy to strike a conciliatory tone, saying the campaign had been a competitive one with “occasional elbows” being thrown.

“But neither of us have fouled out yet,” she added.

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