The state's top law enforcement job is up for grabs this fall, with Republican and Democratic candidates who each bring at least a dozen years' experience as prosecutors.

There's no doubt that David Freed, the Cumberland County district attorney, and Kathleen Kane, a former assistant Lackawanna County district attorney, both qualify to serve as Pennsylvania's next attorney general.

A third candidate, York attorney Marakay Rogers, is running as a Libertarian.

In addition to the job's expansive prosecution duties covering public corruption, drug enforcement, organized crime, and consumer fraud, the attorney general defends the state against lawsuits, reviews regulations, and serves on several agency boards - notably, the Board of Pardons.

The post can be high-profile, and controversial: Think the Bonusgate corruption scandal, child molester Jerry Sandusky, and the doomed U.S. Supreme Court fight by GOP-led states opposed to Obamacare.

This time around, the choice for some voters could hinge on the slight edge that Freed, 42, of Camp Hill, might hold by having managed a 50-member staff as his county's two-term elected district attorney. Kane, 46, of Scranton, counters that she headed the Lackawanna County insurance fraud task force, and gained extensive experience in child abuse, elder abuse, and white-collar crime cases. Since leaving her county job in 2007, her time on nonprofit boards rounded out her management resumé.

As for their plans for the office, Freed, a Dickinson Law grad, wants to beef up efforts to go after cyber crime and dangerous synthetic drugs. He'd also explore creating a victims' advocate post in the office, and crack down on gun violence using just-approved mandatory jail terms for repeated weapons traffickers.

Trained at Temple Law, Kane would focus enforcement efforts against predators who target children online, and ramp up other abuse and fraud investigations - as well as conduct a full investigation into why the Sandusky prosecution took so many years.

But it's on combating urban violence where Kane stands out: She would move decisively to close the so-called Florida loophole on gun permits, push for an antitrafficking law on reporting lost or stolen weapons, and generally bring a welcome activism to stemming illegal guns.

Freed, with National Rifle Association backing, doesn't favor additional laws that "impinge on the rights of gun owners." He might not be the best standard-bearer, either, to push back against NRA threats to trim funding for the state's critically important Gun Violence Task Force.

The dirty-tricks tenor of third-party campaign ads waged against Kane also has served to define the candidates. Freed's bland, even forced disapproval of what called "one of the most blatantly false attack ads" falls well short of the mark.

Sure to be a passionate, independent watchdog as attorney general, KATHLEEN KANE earns The Inquirer's endorsement.