Democrat Dana Nessel remained ahead of her opponent, Republican Tom Leonard, early Wednesdayin a close race to replace term-limited Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
With 73 percent of precincts reporting, Nessel, a Plymouth Township attorney, had 48.2 percent of the vote while Leonard, the House speaker from DeWitt, had 46.9 percent. They were trailed by third-party candidates Lisa Gioia, Chris Graveline and Gerald Van Sickle, who collectively had less than 5 percent of the vote.
“Tom Leonard, if you’re watching this, feel free to call me and concede at any time,” Nessel told her supporters late Tuesday at a Democratic Party gathering in Detroit.
Leonard and Nessel have tussled over issues from the future of Enbridges Line 5 running under the Straits of Mackinac to the potential enforcement of state abortion laws.
The Republican has promised to be a “rule of law” attorney general who will tackle mental health issues, elder abuse and government transparency complaints, while Nessel pledges to address water contamination issues and protect affordable health care.
See results from the Attorney General race.
Nessel has alleged Leonard is a creature of special interests who will choose campaign donors over Michigan residents. Leonard has attacked Nessel for “dangerous” policies and a hostile work environment toward her campaign staff that make her unfit for office.
The winner succeeds Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is running for governor.
Nessel led in all three Detroit News-WDIV polls of 600 likely Michigan voters. But the surveys are snapshots in time and dont predict eventually election winners.
Republican and Democrat attorney general associations have been pouring ads into the state while the candidates themselves have broken fundraising records. Leonard had raised more than $1.4 million through mid-September and had more than $1 million on hand. Nessel had raised more than $1 million in that same time period and had more than a half million still on hand.
Nessel has union and environmentalist group backing as well as endorsements from the Michigan Association of Police Organizations and the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union. Leonard touts endorsements from the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police, and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.
A former Wayne County prosecutor and defense lawyer, Nessel is best known for her work to defend lesbian couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, whose case helped to topple the gay marriage ban in Michigan and other states.
Nessel spent 11 years in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office until she moved into private practice, where she did some indigent defense, probate law and cases pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
She helped start the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a task force that specializes in and trains other prosecutors in addressing hate crimes against the community.
As attorney general, Nessel said she would focus on consumer protections, including going after drug companies that inflate pharmaceutical prices and defense of the Affordable Care Act and the “mandate that health insurance companies must insure people with pre-existing conditions.”
She also plans to ensure Michigan residents enjoy clean and safe drinking water throughout the state. That effort would include the aggressive suing of companies contributing to PFAS chemical contamination and a lawsuit to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac for supposedly violating an easement with the state.
Leonard has called Nessel’s plans for Line 5 “unconscionable” because of the toll a shutdown could take on residents in the Upper Peninsula who rely on Enbridge fuel for heat. Instead, the state needs a real solution, which Leonard argued the state is reaching through its agreements with Enbridge on building a future tunnel under the lake bed for the pipelines.
The former Genesee County assistant prosecutor and assistant attorney general has served in the state House since 2012 and has been speaker for about two years. Leonard served in the special crimes division while working in Genesee County and practiced civil defense for the Michigan Department of Corrections under former Attorney General Mike Cox.
Some of his proudest accomplishments in the state House were getting rid of driver responsibility fees for the state and voting in favor of the Detroit bankruptcy deal, he said.
Should he become attorney general, Leonard would focus on advocating for the mentally ill through treatment courts, create an elder abuse task force and expand the public integrity unit in the Attorney Generals Office.