CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The two candidates for state attorney general are emphasizing decidedly different roles for the office.
Incumbent Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw wants to continue his pursuit of "evildoers" and "rascals" who violate state laws and hurt consumers.
McGraw said his office has collected more than $2 billion from consumer protection lawsuits since he took office after the 1992 election.
Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey wants to do more to sue the federal government and provide policy advice to state agencies.
In particular, Morrisey said McGraw hasn't done enough to challenge President Barack Obama and federal laws and regulations, like environmental regulations aimed at the coal industry.
The two clashed extensively for the first time Wednesday during a meeting with the Daily Mail editorial board. They frequently talked over each other or made asides as the other spoke.
While McGraw's reputation and his office's bread and butter come from multimillion-dollar lawsuits against companies, he said the office spends much of its time prosecuting criminal appeals and representing 250 state agencies.
Morrisey, a former congressional staffer who lives in the Eastern Panhandle, wants to act as general counsel to other branches of government to make sure "competent decisions" are being made.
McGraw said Morrisey was a front man for business interests that want to thwart McGraw's consumer protection efforts.
"If doing business successfully in West Virginia is impaired by protecting the old people and the young people and the vulnerable from predators, then go do business somewhere else," McGraw said.
Morrisey said he still intended to enforce consumer protection laws but made clear he would take a different tack.
"Let's be clear, no one is talking about having a weak consumer protection statute; I intend to vigorously enforce the consumer protection laws, so this is all misnomer," Morrisey said.
But asked if he would bring the same kinds of lawsuits McGraw's office does, Morrisey said he would plan to "educate companies on the importance of these laws" and have "educational summits" for individuals, small businesses and corporations.
"You try to provide compliance assistance to them," Morrisey said.
He said he wanted to change the culture of the office so there is "better predictability, better stability" so businesses know there is a "component office" that is reaching out and working "collaboratively" with them. But, Morrisey said, if someone crosses a line, they would pay the price.
"The fact is, if someone is violating the law and there is no question about that, you pursue immediate action," Morrisey said.
Morrisey has also challenged McGraw over how the attorney general picks outside law firms to represent the state.
First, Morrisey said the office needs to rely less on outside lawyers.
Second, he said the office needs to have an open bidding process to hire outside attorneys general.
The outside attorneys can sometimes get lucrative cuts of state settlements. McGraw's office has faced criticism for allowing contributors or acquaintances to get contracts.