JEFFERSON CITY - Sen. Chris Koster emerged the winner of the Democratic nomination for Missouri attorney general on Tuesday after a close race against Rep. Margaret Donnelly.
Koster's lead narrowed considerably as votes from Donnelly's home St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis were reported. But by the time all the votes were counted, Koster had edged Donnelly by only three-tenths of a percentage point.
The final tally from the office of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan showed Koster with 118,589 votes, or 34.3 percent, to Donnelly's 117,737 votes, or 34 percent.
Rep. Jeff Harris of Columbia placed third, despite a big boost from his of Boone County, where he won 69.5 percent of the vote. Statewide, he managed only 25 percent of the vote.
As returns were coming in, Harris joined about 50 supporters, family members and campaign workers at Salon C of the Courtyard Marriott in Columbia. The atmosphere was quiet yet tense around 10:15 p.m. Some supporters chatted and sipped wine at decorated tables while others anxiously watched projection screens.
Harris spoke briefly about his Give 'Em Hell Harris Tour across the state and his communication with voters about gas prices and political calls, ideas he said he has worked to advance in voters' minds.
"If things don't turn out the way we want, life goes on," he said with his wife, Katie, at his side.
After votes from all but 16 precincts had been counted, Harris conceded.
"I have no regrets. We worked as hard as we possibly could have, and I'm proud of our effort. For my immediate plan, I have an 11-month-old little girl and I've missed out on a lot of her first year. I've got a lot of making up to do."
Koster claimed victories in counties throughout the southern portion of the state while Donnelly won in the northwest corner and took about half the votes in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.
It's the first time Democrats have had to pick a new attorney general candidate since Jay Nixon claimed a narrow plurality in a four-way 1992 primary. Nixon, now the Democratic governor candidate, is the state's longest serving attorney general.
The campaign to replace him among Koster, Donnelly and Harris was rancorous, with most of the criticism aimed at Koster. Molly Williams, a Kansas City lawyer and social studies teacher, also sought the Democratic nod but did not campaign or raise money.
Sen. Michael Gibbons, of Kirkwood, is the only Republican on Tuesday's ballot.
The three major Democratic candidates sparred over qualifications, fundraising, party credentials and even whether the attorney general office's primary duties are criminal prosecutions or consumer protection. In most of the tussles, Harris and Donnelly seemed to tag-team against Koster.
Harris, the former House minority leader, and Donnelly focused their criticisms on the fundraising tactics and party bona fides of Koster, who switched from Republican to Democrat shortly before he formally announced he was running for attorney general a year ago.
The Associated Press reported in early July that Koster's paid campaign staffers had coordinated the shuffling of money among various committees so that big donors could give more than otherwise allowed by contribution limits.
Koster, a former Cass County prosecutor who raised substantially more money than his rivals, contends his fundraising efforts were legal. He has argued that his support for stem cell research, organized labor and other issues fit in the beliefs of the Democratic Party.
Koster's campaign has geared toward law enforcement and aired numerous television ads billing himself as "all prosecutor, no politics." Harris and Donnelly, meanwhile, focused on consumer protections, floating proposals geared at scams and consumer annoyances such as telemarketers and robo-calls.
Missourian reporter Amy Allen contributed to this report.