ATLANTA --- The two major party candidates to become Georgia's next top law enforcement official like to say that the post is nonpartisan because they have to enforce the law no matter what. That might help explain why both are aggressively courting voters across party lines.
Democrat Ken Hodges holds several events each month promoting support from GOP officials, including an appearance this week involving three Republican district attorneys who are backing his campaign. And Republican Sam Olens has eagerly appealed to Democrats, picking up key endorsements while reaching out to minority groups and independents.
The cross-party support could come in handy in the down-ticket race for one of Georgia's most powerful positions. There hasn't been a wide-open race for the attorney general seat in more than 60 years, and the victor will help shape Georgia's policy and defend its laws in court for years to come.
Election watchers are scratching their heads over why a flurry of officials have crossed party lines to support both candidates, but University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said it's certainly made the race more captivating -- and unpredictable.
"Some individuals making the endorsements wouldn't do it for a higher-profile position like governor or senator," he said. "And maybe having a broader base than just your fellow partisans makes you more appealing to undecided voters."
The dueling endorsements have added a new dimension to the hotly competitive race. State officials say the race hasn't been open since Ellis Arnall left the post to run for governor in 1942. Since then all five attorneys general were all first appointed to their posts.
The rivals are also about even in campaign contributions. The latest filings show Olens has raised $1.37 million, with about $286,000 cash on hand. Hodges took in $1.31 million in campaign contributions and had more than $400,000 remaining.
Libertarian Don Smart, a Savannah attorney, is also vying for the job.
Hodges, a 45-year-old former Dougherty County district attorney, made a splash when he recently picked up the endorsement of former Rep. Bo Callaway, who became the first Georgia Republican elected to Congress since Reconstruction in 1964.
The ex-prosecutor was raised in Albany but recently moved to Atlanta.
Olens, a 53-year-old former Cobb County Commission chair, has his share of Democratic support. He has participated in conference calls with the NAACP and recruited several Democratic officials, including Lowndes County Commission Chair Ashley Paulk and former U.S. Sen. David Gambrell, who was appointed to the Senate in 1971 by President Jimmy Carter.