The DFL Party has had a lock on the Minnesota attorney general’s office for almost five decades. Too often that has discouraged high-caliber Republican candidates from seeking the position, a regrettable reality again as voters head to the primary polls later this month.

Attorney General Lori Swanson’s sudden decision to run for governor gives the GOP a real opening to reclaim this statewide office and restore needed balance. The DFL field of candidates is crowded. A Republican with broad appeal could have stood above the fray, engineering momentum for a November win. But the GOP is frustratingly ill-prepared for this opportunity.

Two of the contenders — former state legislator Robert Lessard and perennial candidate Sharon Anderson — are not attorneys. The third, Doug Wardlow, is a lawyer. But his work for a controversial conservative group known for its leaders’ anti-gay views raises questions about whether he would use the office to pursue a similar agenda rather than focusing on consumer issues.

Wardlow nevertheless is the only GOP primary candidate qualified to do the job and merits the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s primary endorsement for that reason. While Lessard, 87, has correctly noted that the state’s attorney general does not have to be a lawyer, the state would be ill-served by having someone who isn’t.

Among the attorney general’s duties: to “act as public advocates in areas such as child support enforcement, consumer protections, antitrust and utility regulation; propose legislation; enforce federal and state environmental laws; represent the state and state agencies before the state and federal courts; handle criminal appeals and serious statewide criminal prosecutions,” according to the National Association of State Attorneys General.

Wardlow, 40, is a Georgetown University Law Center graduate. He served one term in the Minnesota House representing Eagan before his 2012 defeat. Bills authored by him took aim at unions and the Affordable Care Act. During an Editorial Board interview, Wardlow said he would focus on public safety as attorney general. That’s admirable, but there’s little in his experience to suggest that is an area he’s experienced in or passionate about.

Wardlow’s employment with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious liberty advocacy group, will generate enthusiasm among some primary voters but weaken broader support. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated ADF as a “hate group” for leaders’ statements on homosexuality.

Questions about this are inevitable and will not help the GOP end the DFL’s stranglehold on the Attorney General’s Office.

Editor’s note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsement in the DFL Party contest for attorney general is planned for publication on Tuesday.