Michigan Democrat leaders: Don’t bet on ‘blue wave,’ build it

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
The Michigan Democratic Party ticket.

East Lansing – Michigan Democrats finalized their ticket for fall elections on Sunday, formally nominating candidates for statewide office in a year that experts say could bode well for the minority party in state and federal government.

But two years after Republican President Donald Trump scored a surprise win in Michigan, party leaders warned activists against assuming Democratic strength.

“I want a blue wave, but that blue wave isn’t going to happen if we keep talking about it,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn. “It’s going to happen when we take nothing for granted and roll up our sleeves.”

Democrats need to talk about issues that matter to working families and remind them “elections have consequences,” Dingell told activists in a state party convention speech at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee offered a similar call to action.

“We can’t win just by running against Donald Trump and Bill Schuette," Kildee said. "We saw what happened two years ago. I’ll tell you my friends, I don’t know about you, but I’m just exhausted by noble defeat."

Garlin Gilchrist accepts the Michigan Democratic Party nomination for lieutenant governor.

Democrats on Sunday rounded out a ticket that will be headed by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer, whose running mate Garlin Gilchrist was officially nominated as the party’s pick for lieutenant governor.

Attorney General candidate Dana Nessel, Secretary of State candidate Jocelyn Benson and Supreme Court candidates Megan Cavanagh and Sam Bagenstos – all endorsed at a party convention in March -- were also formally nominated for the ballot with 72 days left until the Nov. 6 general election.

“This election is bigger than any one of us, it is about every one of us,” Whitmer said. “Government works best when passionate people participate, when we debate ideas, when we work together to solve problems. And right now we have a job to do.”

The March endorsement convention and August primary allowed Democrats to enter the convention as a unified front despite earlier divisions between the progressive and establishment wings of the party. Members voted on statewide education posts Saturday.

Dana Nessel accepts Michigan Democratic Party nomination for attorney general.

Nessel, a favorite of the progressive left would be the state’s first openly gay attorney general, used a fiery convention speech to rail on Republicans.

“Republicans eat at the trough of the oil and gas companies,” Nessel said, vowing that if elected, she would shut down Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 pipeline. She argued that Bill Schuette, the current attorney general and Republican nominee for governor, used the office to serve “corporate masters” rather than fight for regular people.

A Plymouth Township lawyer best known for helping topple the state’s gay marriage ban, Nessel said she would fight for civil rights and defended her prior work as a criminal defense attorney, noting it is an “essential role in our system of justice.”

“Tom Leonard, you cannot be anti-public corruption and pro-Donald Trump at the same time,” she said, referencing her Republican opponent in the general election. “Those things are mutually exclusive.”

Benson, who was also the party’s nominee for Secretary of State, said she would be ready to do the job on day one. The former dean of the Wayne State University Law School said her race against Republican Mary Treder Lang “will define our Democracy for years to come.”

Jocelyn Benson accepts Democratic nomination for Michigan Secretary of State.

“That's why as secretary of state I will be ready to implement changes that protect your voice, your vote, and I will work every day to ensure our Democracy is one where your voice is valued and your vote is secure,” Benson said.

Republicans finalized their ticket Saturday at a state party convention in Lansing that functioned as a primary victory party for Schuette and running mate Lisa Lyons. Republicans rallied around the mantra of “results, not resistance,” arguing the GOP has helped improve economic conditions despite Democratic opposition at every turn.  

But “Democrats are ready to lead and ready to get things done for people – not just wealthy people. Not just powerful people,” Stabenow said. “We want everybody to have a fair shot.”

Stabenow is set to take on Republican nominee John James, a Farmington Hills businessman and Army veteran, in the general election. James has called himself a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, who endorsed him in the GOP primary.

“I want you to know that when my opponent says he stands with Donald Trump ‘2,000 percent,’ I stand with Michigan 2,000 percent,” she said.

Stabenow chastised Republicans for what she called a “war” on health care and attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, a theme Gilchrist also touched on in accepting the lieutenant governor nomination.

Whitmer worked to expand Medicaid eligibility while serving as state senate minority leader, Gilchrist said. Schuette “sued the federal government, not one, not two, not three but nine times to block parts of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

“The choice this November is so start,” he said. “It could not be more clear how different the visions are for Michigan between Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Schuette.”