PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A retired state appeals court judge rode support from marijuana advocates to get closer to Oregon's top law enforcement job, defeating a former federal prosecutor to win the Democratic nomination for Oregon attorney general.
Former interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton was better known and had more money than longtime judge Ellen Rosenblum. But Democrats did not respond to Holton's tough-on-crime message or his support from most of the sheriffs and district attorneys around the state.
With 76 percent of the votes counted, Rosenblum led Holton 64 percent to 36 percent in Oregon's Tuesday primary.
Rosenblum's victory came with the help of marijuana activists who flexed their political muscles in a state with 55,000 registered pot users. Holton has criticized Oregon's medical marijuana law and had overseen raids on medical marijuana grows.
Pro-pot groups attacked Holton and steered large campaign contributions to Rosenblum, who promised to make marijuana enforcement a low priority in office.
"There's lots of issues that played into my victory, and that may well be one of them," Rosenblum said of the surprising emergence of medical marijuana as a defining issue. "But I was running on a platform of being an attorney for the people of Oregon, and I think they got it and I think that's why I won."
Also in the Tuesday primary, Mitt Romney notched another win in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Oregon has 25 presidential delegates, and most if not all are going to Romney.
In the race for mayor of Portland, a former city commissioner, Charlie Hales, had a comfortable lead, with 38 percent of the vote. State Rep. Jefferson Smith led New Seasons Market co-founder Eileen Brady 31 percent to 23 percent in the race for second place. The top two contenders will go on to a runoff in November.
Two incumbent legislators, Republican Sen. Chris Telfer and Democratic Rep. Mike Schaufler, lost re-election bids.
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown defeated Democratic challenger Paul Damian Wells, and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio easily turned back a Democratic challenge by Matthew Robinson, the son of Art Robinson, the Republican DeFazio will face in November.
Matthew Robinson said during the campaign that he did not expect to win, and acknowledged that he shared nearly all of his father's political views.
In other congressional primaries, Democrats chose Joyce Seegers to challenge Republican Rep. Greg Walden. Republicans chose Ronald Green to challenge Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Fred Thompson to challenge Rep. Kurt Schrader, and Delinda Morgan to challenge Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.
Portland attorney Nena Cook secured a place in the November runoff to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court with 38 percent. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Richard Baldwin held a slight lead, 32 percent to 31 percent, over Court of Appeals judge Timothy Sercombe for the second slot.
Voters in Josephine County, the heart of Oregon timber country, voted down a tax increase to make up for the loss of federal timber subsidies. Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said the failure of the $12 million-a-year levy will force sheriff's patrols and prosecutors to be pared down by the end of the month. About 100 jail inmates will have to be released to get down to the new limit of 30.
Rosenblum will likely face little Republican opposition in the November general election. The Republican Party didn't field a candidate for attorney general, but party officials encouraged voters to write in the name of Portland property attorney James Buchal.
Write-in results were not immediately available. If Buchal receives more GOP write-in votes than any other candidate, Rosenblum will face him in November. But Republican voters could also nominate the winner of the Democratic primary, as they did four years ago with incumbent Attorney General John Kroger, a Democrat.
Rosenblum, 61, emphasized her Oregon roots and portrayed Holton as an outsider. She was a federal prosecutor in Eugene and Portland for nine years before she was appointed a trial court judge in 1989. She became an Oregon Court of Appeals judge in 2005 and stepped down from the bench last year.
Holton, 46, was a federal prosecutor for 15 years, first in the New York City borough of Brooklyn before transferring to Portland in 2004 and, later, running the U.S. attorney's office for Oregon on an interim basis for nearly two years.
Holton's father, Linwood Holton, was a Republican governor of Virginia, and his brother-in-law, Tim Kaine, is a former Democratic governor of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"I will always be grateful for the overwhelming support from groups who fight every day for working families, for teachers, for equal rights — and those who stand up for justice and go to work every day to hold powerful interests accountable and keep our communities safe," Holton said in a statement.