The contours of the race to replace Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette are starting to clarify. On the Democratic side, openly lesbian attorney Dana Nessel is the nominee, and on the GOP side it's Michigan Speaker of the House Tom Leonard. However, one blurred line remains: independent Chris Graveline.
He grabbed the endorsement of former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuaid, but when he failed to gather the required 30,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, Graveline sued the state in federal court. Last week, the court ruled that if he has 5,000 valid signatures, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will be required to certify him for the ballot.
McQuaid originally backed former U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles for the Democratic nod, but when he failed to gain that approval in April, she switched her backing to Graveline — not a first for McQuaid. The Detroit News reported that when Graveline originally failed to qualify for the ballot, she switched her support to Nessel. If McQuaid switches support again, Graveline could cut into Nessel's base and create a far costlier two-front battle.
Leonard, for his part, is rolling into the race with conservative bona fides that would make President Donald Trump happy. The DeWitt Republican survived a brutal battle leading up to the GOP's convention in August with State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker. The two Republicans hammered each other on immigration issues, with Schuitmaker attacking Leonard for allowing a DACA individual to volunteer in his office for three weeks. That volunteer was characterized by Schuitmaker's attack machine as "undocumented" and as a liberal community organizer, according to Bridge Magazine.
In June, Leonard joined with Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhoff to challenge a May decision by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to treat anti-LGBTQ discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under Michigan civil rights laws. The duo appealed to Attorney General, and current GOP nominee for governor, Bill Schuette to overturn the decision. Schuette obliged. Schuette is also a supporter of private religious adoption agencies refusing service to potential parents who do not match their religious beliefs — particularly LGBTQ parents.
State Rep. Gary Glenn is the president of the fundamentalist Christian American Family Association of Michigan, and has called Leonard the most conservative speaker of the Michigan House in his endorsement. Although Glenn lost a battle for the state Senate seat in his area after big energy companies backed his GOP opponent, Glenn's wife, Annette Glenn, won the GOP primary in August to replace him in the House.
Annette Glenn's support comes from Leonard's anti-LGBTQ pushback, as well as his staunch anti-choice stance. Add on top of that Leonard's focus on so-called free market economics which includes cutting taxes, putting work requirements on those receiving Medicaid and repealing the prevailing wage.
Of course, Leonard is also a big fan of the "no reason Constitutional carry" of firearms. That's a creative way of saying anyone with a gun should be able to carry it anywhere for any reason.
Watch for Leonard backers, like former Governor John Engler's Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager Dan Pero, to not only attack Nessel with phrases like "nutty Nessel," but also encourage Democrats to back Graveline. It's a clear message that Leonard and his team will try to peel votes away from Nessel in an attempt for him to land in the AG post with a plurality, rather than majority of the vote.