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Attorney general candidates spar in feisty debate

Attorney general candidates Warren Tolman and Maura Healey laid out sharply different visions for the office in an often testy Globe-sponsored debate today, just two weeks before they face each other in the Democratic primary.

Healey, a former top deputy to Attorney General Martha Coakley, spoke of being a tough litigator who has protected the vulnerable. “You are the people’s lawyer, that is the role of the attorney general,” she said.

Tolman, a former state senator who pushed significant tobacco and ethics reform through the Legislature, spoke of leading outside the courthouse on issues like sexual assault on college campuses.

“It’s a visionary kind of role that I see, where you look at issues, you tackle them -- it could be in the courtroom, it could be outside the courtroom, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

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Amid a staid gubernatorial race, the attorney general’s contest has attracted more attention than usual among Democratic activists.

Public opinion surveys show a tight race; Healey led Tolman 28 to 26 percent in the latest Globe poll, with broad swaths of the electorate undecided. And the race has pitted some of the most powerful constituencies in Democratic politics.

Tolman has combined his reformer’s appeal with strong support from organized labor, including his brother Steven, the president of the state AFL-CIO. Healey, who is a lesbian, has the support of women’s and gay rights groups.


David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com.