- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The race for Pennsylvania attorney general is becoming very heated between two leading Democrats seeking to replace Attorney General Kathleen Kane, set off by former Gov. Ed Rendell’s endorsement in the race Wednesday.

In a statement released by Josh Shapiro’s campaign, Rendell called Shapiro “the only candidate who will restore integrity to Harrisburg.”

In a response two hours later, the campaign for Stephen Zappala accused Shapiro of being “fundamentally flawed” for the attorney general’s office and a “full-time politician and a part-time lawyer who has never tried either a criminal or civil case in court.”

It was a fast turn of events for the two as they collect signatures to get on the ballot for the April 26 primary.

Shapiro is a former state lawmaker and the commissioners’ chairman in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania’s third-most populous. Zappala, the son of a former state Supreme Court justice, has 17 years under his belt as the district attorney in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county.

Kane is considering running for another term, but she is keeping a low profile and is not backed by any visible campaign organization. Kane is fighting criminal charges, the suspension of her law license and the potential that the Senate could vote to remove her from office.

Zappala’s record in law enforcement includes prosecuting the corruption cases of the former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.

Shapiro is a lawyer, but has never been a prosecutor, criminal defense lawyer or civil trial lawyer, and he would be the only Pennsylvania attorney general since it became an elected post in 1980 without some sort of experience in law enforcement. In other states, attorneys general often take office without law enforcement background.

Shapiro has insisted he has the credentials to fix an attorney general’s office riven by scandal under Kane, and his campaign suggested that its responsibilities are broader than a district attorney’s crime-and-punishment portfolio.

“The fact is the Attorney General’s office has broad responsibilities, from holding public officials to the highest level of integrity to ensuring clean drinking water, product safety and protecting consumers from corporate wrongdoing,” Shapiro’s campaign said.

Shapiro is touting his record of helping lead a House of Representatives reform commission in the wake of a legislative corruption scandal and taking over in Montgomery County in 2012 after his predecessor had been arrested.

Shapiro also is Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s appointee atop the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

The primary election is April 26.

Also expected to run in the Democratic primary is Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who has run unsuccessfully three times for the office. The Republican Party has endorsed state Sen. John Rafferty of Montgomery County. He may face a primary challenge by former prosecutor Joe Peters, a former Scranton police officer who served briefly in Kane’s office.

Leading the pack in campaign donations is Shapiro, who reported $1.3 million in his campaign account heading into 2016. Kane did not raise any campaign contributions in 2015 while she used campaign cash to pay legal bills for her criminal defense.

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