These are tying times for two campaign rivals

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John Rafferty (above) and Josh Shapiro: Both tout their experience. FILE PHOTOS

IF RUNNING in a low-profile race with not-so-great statewide ID, one way to campaign or debate is to tie your opponent to other pols voters know all too well.

The candidates for state attorney general did that Monday during an hour-long debate at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, just outside Harrisburg.

And it sure didn't take long to do so.

Republican John Rafferty, a state senator from Montgomery County, used his opening statement to compare his Democratic opponent to former AG Kathleen Kane.

He later said Democratic Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro has less experience than Kane when she ran for AG four years ago, and tagged Shapiro as "Kathleen Kane in a suit."

Shapiro, also a former state House member, never has been a prosecutor. Rafferty, a deputy AG from 1988 to 1991, hammered the point. "Experience matters," he said. "Practicing in a courtroom matters."

For his part, Shapiro sniped that Rafferty's prosecutorial experience was "30 years ago" and sought to paste Rafferty firmly to GOP ticket-topper Donald Trump.

He hit Rafferty for not joining other state Republicans, such as Tom Ridge and U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan and Charlie Dent, in disavowing Trump after a string of racist, sexist, and many other controversial remarks.

"I think he has to account for that," Shapiro said.

Association games didn't end there.

Rafferty noted that Shapiro gave candidate Kane $5,000 and said (apparently in all seriousness), "She was in office because of him."

And Shapiro noted Rafferty recently was "campaigning" with former state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, who resigned amid an email porn scandal made public by Kane.

Each candidate vowed to clean up the Office of Attorney General, and restore integrity and public confidence in the wake of Kane's turbulent reign.

Shapiro said he's better able to do so because of his experience as Montco's chairman of commissioners: "I cleaned up the mess in Montgomery County."

But Rafferty countered that as a resident of Montgomery County, he's seen services cut and taxes go up.

"That's not what we want in the Attorney General's Office," Rafferty said.

The two also clashed on guns.

Shapiro supports stricter gun-safety laws. Rafferty calls himself "pro-gun," and cosponsored legislation allowing the NRA and others to sue municipalities such as Philadelphia that pass local gun ordinances.

Shapiro called Rafferty "captive to special interests." But Rafferty said that while he got $1,000 from the NRA, Shapiro got $250,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading gun-control proponent.

They fielded a question about political perceptions of the AG's Office.

Each said he would not use the office as a stepping-stone to higher office and would serve out a first four-year term and, if reelected, a second term, though Shapiro said he would not sign "a silly pledge" committing to do so.

Guess that means Shapiro supporters should hang on to their Shapiro yard signs.

(Since the AG's Office was switched from an appointed to an elective post, three of the state's five elected AG's - Ernie Preate, Mike Fisher, and Tom Corbett - have run for governor during their second terms.)

And speaking of supporters, both candidates touted their endorsements.

Shapiro noted editorial endorsements from the Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Rafferty noted he's backed by the Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge and the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.

Each candidate turned in a strong, if somewhat testy, debate performance. And did so, ironically, on the same day Democrat Kane was sentenced to prison for a politically motivated grand jury leak and a perjury conviction for lying about it.

baerj@phillynews.com

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