Last spring, Colorado’s Attorney General John Suthers joined a lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s health care plan, saying the federal government cannot force people to buy health insurance. That move prompted Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett to launch a bid for Suthers’s job.

He’s facing an uphill battle. Suthers’s long career in public office means he’s got great name recognition, and he’s raised more than twice as much money as Garnett. Now, Garnett is attacking Suthers in a new TV ad. Colorado Public Radio’s Eric Whitney has more on the race for attorney general.

John Suthers says the federal government has no right to tell people they have to buy health insurance. Democrats who passed the health reform law say it does. They say everyone needs healthcare at some point, and if they don’t pay for it themselves, taxpayers and people with insurance pick up the tab. That makes health care interstate commerce, and therefore the government can regulate it, and even make people buy health insurance. Republican John Suthers says that goes too far.

Suthers: Health insurance is a good thing, we want people to have health insurance. But if you can use the commerce power to punish people for their economic activity, not buying the product or service the government wants you to buy, it doesn't end with health insurance.

Democrat Stan Garnett says there’s no real legal question here - that it’s clear the federal government can require people to buy health insurance. Garnett says Suthers’s decision to join Colorado to the lawsuit challenging the insurance requirement was a bad idea.

Garnett: What a waste of the prestige and the authority of the Colorado attny general’s office it was, and how I felt it was an example of a longstanding practice of John Suthers’ to get distracted from real issues in Colorado and get involved in this kind of wild goose chase.

So the health care law exposes a major difference in legal philosophy between Suthers and Garnett. It’s a big, national issue that’s going to affect every American and has big implications for Colorado. The candidates have been talking about it for months. That doesn’t mean it’s on the minds of voters, though.

Voter1: Attorney general? Ach, haven’t read anything. Voter2: No, I see all the commercials, but- they kind of get annoying, (laughs)

The latest Denver Post poll shows that fully one-third of Colorado voters haven’t made up their minds in the attorney generals’ race. That means Stan Garnett still has a chance, even though Suthers is up by 20 points among voters who have made a choice. Garnett’s been trying to get traction by attacking Suthers for not looking out for the little guy.

Garnett: We have a consumer protection crisis that affects everybody, in cities, in rural areas, across the state. and we can’t wait another four years to get the priorities of that office in line.

Suthers scoffs at that criticism. He says his office aggressively prosecutes criminal violations that affect Colorado consumers, but doesn’t have the time or resources to get involved in every argument between businesses and customers.

Suthers: He’s been searching for issues, and if you look across the country that’s one that people try and seize on, I’ll be the man of the people and that sort of thing.

On other potential hot-button issues, Suthers and Garnett have some common ground. Take Arizona’s tough new anti-immigration law- both say it’s largely unconstitutional, and think it shouldn’t be duplicated in Colorado. On medical marijuana, Suthers generally takes a tougher stand than Garnett, but both candidates agree that even though Colorado legalized it, the federal government still has the right to continue busting Coloradans for growing and selling marijuana. So, beyond their big difference on the healthcare lawsuit, both candidates are basically trying to appeal to voters by saying they’ll do the best job of running what is essentially the law firm for Colorado’s government. And that’s where Garnett is making a serious attack on Suthers.

Audio from YouTube ad) Colorado, who would you rather have protecting you? The man who unleashed a serial killer on Colorado? Or Stan Garnett, the man who put the serial killer away?

Garnett has unleashed an ad criticizing Suthers for his role in an FBI plan that let a convicted felon out of prison to work as an informer. It happened in 2001, when Suthers was Colorado’s top federal prosecutor. The informer, Scott Kimball, would go on to kill at least four people after being released, but Suthers says there’s no way anyone could have predicted that at the time of his release.

Suthers: It's a terrible tragedy. Obviously mistakes were made by the FBI in assessing this person as a informant. But to suggest that I'm somehow responsible for these peoples' death is, in my opinion, very irresponsible.

Garnett says the Kimball case shows that Suthers doesn’t run a tight enough ship. His ad is carefully crafted to paint Suthers in the worst possible light. But incendiary as it may be, the ad could be too little too late. Garnett’s advertising budget is small, and the ad might get lost on TV airwaves already saturated with campaign commercials. With mail-in voting starting next Monday (10/18), a lot of people might not even see the ad until after they’ve voted.