By Gintautas Dumcius

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

WORCESTER -- Bay State Democrats on Saturday endorsed former state lawmaker Warren Tolman by a 160-vote margin over ex-prosecutor Maura Healey, who also qualified for the party's primary in the race for attorney general.

Tolman received 2,254 delegate votes, while Healey picked up 2,094 votes, according to the state party.

"Pleased and honored to win today, but I know the big battle looms ahead," said Tolman, who added that he hadn't run for office in 12 years. "It's going to be a race and we knew that coming in."

Tolman said his campaign will push a "message of leadership."

Healey said she will focus on her experience working as head of the civil rights division under Attorney General Martha Coakley. "I'm new to politics, but I'm not new to the work of the attorney general's office," said Healey, a first-time candidate.

A recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll showed 58 percent of likely voters were undecided in the Democrats' side of the race for attorney general, with both candidates tightly bunched.

The winner of the primary on September 9 will face Winchester Republican John Miller in November.

In their speeches to convention delegates, both candidates sought to appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, with Tolman pointing out how conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh once called him an "anti-smoking Nazi" and Healey highlighting to her efforts in the attorney general's office to legally back gay marriage rights.

Before Healey's video, which showcased her skills as a professional basketball point guard in Austria, former Sen. Mo Cowan, a former top Patrick administration official, took to the stage in the DCU Center and said Healey has a "brilliant legal mind."

Healey emphasized her support for the abortion clinic buffer zone law. She also pointed to her support for repealing the casino law, an issue she and Tolman split on.

The ballot question repealing the casino law is before the Supreme Judicial Court, which will decide if voters can weigh in come November after Coakley disqualified it for the ballot.

Healey said casinos bring about addiction, bankruptcies, and foreclosures. She said she would "hold the gaming industry accountable."

Describing herself as a "civil rights attorney," she said she would focus on illegal guns and criminal justice reform if elected attorney general. "I led with my head and my heart and I have been working for you," Healey told the crowd of roughly 4,600 delegates.

Tolman, a former state senator from Watertown, was introduced by former Democratic Party chairman John Walsh, Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester) and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.

Walsh, who was Gov. Deval Patrick's campaign manager in 2006, pointed to Tolman's clashes with the tobacco industry and his 2002 run as a governor under the "Clean Elections" banner. Tolman is "more than just a lawyer, he's a leader," Walsh said.

In his speech, Tolman called himself a "proven progressive leader," backed by four former attorneys general. They include Frank Bellotti, Scott Harshbarger, Jim Shannon and Thomas Reilly, according to his campaign.

Tolman also said he will mandate fingerprint trigger locks on guns and targeted the National Rifle Association. "Make no mistake, when I'm attorney general, life for the NRA just got tougher," he said.

Asked after his speech about Healey's push for the casino law repeal, Tolman said

"For this convention, which oftentimes is more progressive than the electorate, we have two incredibly strong progressives in this race," Moran said.

One candidate has a "history of votes" and another is "not afraid to take progressive stances," Moran added. "That's why I'm with Warren. He's voted on progressive issues."

Boston City Councilor Matt O'Malley, who represents Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, said Healey, the daughter of a Navy captain and a school nurse, has overseen 250 attorneys and staffers in the attorney general's office.

She currently lives in Charlestown with her partner.

"It's a great story most of us can relate to," O'Malley said. 

Matt Murphy contributed reporting.