Democratic attorney general, SOS candidates lead Republicans in new poll

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Democratic candidate for state attorney general Dana Nessel is a Plymouth Township attorney best known for her role in overturning the state's same sex marriage ban.

Democratic candidates for attorney general and secretary of state are leading Republicans by double-digit margins, but name recognition for all Michigan hopefuls in the races is minimal, according to a new statewide poll.

Democratic Plymouth attorney Dana Nessel led Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt 42 percent to 29 percent, while Democrat Jocelyn Benson is ahead of Republican Mary Treder Lang 44 percent to 29 percent, according to the Glengariff Group survey.

The Detroit News and WDIV-TV commissioned the Sept. 5-7 poll of 600 likely voters that had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Tom Leonard, the Republican candidate for state attorney general, trails by 12.9 percentage points.

Republican candidates will have to spend large amounts of money to make their names better known and overcome associations with President Donald Trump, about whom 57 percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion, said Richard Czuba, who conducted the poll for the Lansing-based Glengariff.

“What’s interesting here is both parties nominated people that nobody knows,” Czuba said of the attorney general and secretary of state races. “Their own voters don’t know the individuals, so these races right now are automatically reverting to kind of the generic ballot test, and the same factor we see playing out in the governor’s race is playing out in these races.”

In the governor's race, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has a 14-percentage-point advantage over Republican Bill Schuette, according to the survey.

Nessel is leading Leonard by 13 percentage points in the state attorney general race, with 24 percent of those polled undecided and 4.6 percent supporting a third-party candidate, the survey found.

Nessel is best known for her role in helping overturn the state's same-sex marriage ban in a U.S. Supreme Court case. Leonard worked as a state assistant attorney general and assistant prosecutor in Genesee County before joining the Legislature.  

Nessel had 17 percent name identification, with 5 percent favorable and 3 percent unfavorable, while Leonard had 23 percent name identification with 3 percent favorable and 5 percent unfavorable.

Michigan voters want someone who will protect the Great Lakes, clean water and accessible health care, which is why they support Nessel, said campaign spokesman Max Glass.

“This poll reflects what we hear from Michiganders every day across the state: voters are looking for an attorney general who is a tenacious advocate for justice for all children and families," Glass said in a statement.

Nessel leads Leonard by 15.5 percentage points among independent voters, a voting group that’s been known to shift statewide races in Michigan. Independents favored Benson over Treder Lang by 13 percentage points.

A possible spoiler?

The polling was done prior to independent candidate Christopher Graveline securing a place on the ballot in the attorney general race. Other third-party candidates for attorney general include Libertarian Lisa Lane Gioia and U.S. Taxpayers candidate Gerald T. Van Sickle.

Like the other attorney general candidates, Graveline would have to increase his name recognition to succeed in November, Czuba said. Otherwise, Graveline is unlikely to garner many more votes than other candidates from the Libertarian or U.S. Taxpayers party.

“They barely even get any votes,” Czuba said. “So one more name on the ballot, unless you really have sold that name with a lot of money, isn’t going to make a difference in that race.”

Some experts have speculated on the effect Graveline could have on Leonard or Nessel’s vote totals, especially given former Detroit U.S.  Attorney Barb McQuade’s shift of endorsements from Graveline to Nessel earlier this year when it appeared Graveline wouldn’t make the ballot.

McQuade stuck by her endorsement of Nessel in a statement to The News on Tuesday, calling her an “outstanding” candidate who “has the support necessary to win the election.”

 “Chris Graveline is a great lawyer, but at this stage, I don’t think he has time to organize support to win the election as an independent,” McQuade said. “It would be great to see him run for AG as a major party candidate in the future.”

Graveline's qualification for the ballot makes the attorney general race much closer than the Glengariff poll indicates, as the former U.S. attorney is likely to take votes form Nessel "among traditional Wayne County Democrats and blue-collar workers who are turned off by her dangerously liberal background," Leonard's campaign spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said in a statement.

Leonard also has a financial advantage with $910,000 on hand compared with Nessel's $311,000, D'Assandro said. 

Jocelyn Benson, dean of Wayne State University's Law School, is the Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

Secretary of state race

Republican Treder Lang is trailing Benson by 15 points, with 22.5 percent of voters still undecided and 5 percent supporting third-party candidates.

The support for Benson, a former Wayne State University Law School dean, reflects the campaign's experience in meeting with residents across the state, said spokeswoman Liz Boyd. 

"People want a Secretary of State who will value their time, their money, and protect their vote," Boyd said in a statement. "They want to get in and out of branch offices in under 30 minutes."

Benson had 19 percent name identification, with 5 percent favorable and 2.5 percent unfavorable. Treder Lang had 14 percent name identification, with 2.6 percent favorable and 2.5 percent unfavorable.

As more people learn of Treder Lang, a Grosse Pointe Farms accountant, and her plans for secure elections and efficient office operations, she is sure to gain supporters, her spokesman Gary Koutsoubos said in a statement. 

"We are confident that Michigan voters will side with the candidate who has the modern day set of skills for a modern Michigan,” Koutsoubos said.

Republican candidate for state attorney general Mary Treder Lang Mary Treder Lang is trailing by 15.2 percentage points, with 22.5 percent of voters still undecided and 5.2 percent supporting third party candidates.

Polls reflect a snapshot of voter sentiment at a specific time and do not predict election outcomes.

"Voters move toward Tom Leonard when they hear about his tough-on-crime experience as a prosecutor, his support from law enforcement, and his efforts to put sexual predators behind bars where they belong," D'Assandro said. 

Like other Republicans down ticket, Leonard and Treder Lang will have a tough go of combating the anti-Trump wave expected to hit the ballot box in November. The survey found voters with a favorable opinion of Trump go 64 percent for Leonard, while those with an unfavorable opinion of Trump go 69 percent for Nessel.

“The nugget for all the numbers right now — the fulcrum point — is how a voter views Donald Trump, and that’s very, very bad news for the Republicans on the ticket,” Czuba said.

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Detroit News Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.


Attorney general

Dana Nessel (D) 42%

Tom Leonard (R) 29%

Third-party hopeful 5%

Undecided 24%

Secretary of State

Jocelyn Benson (D) 44%

Mary Treder Lang (R) 29%

Third-party hopeful 5%

Undecided 23%.

Note: Sept. 5-7 poll of 600 likely Michigan voters. Margin of error: plus-minus 4 percentage points. Totals may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.

Source: Glengariff Group