Poll: Nessel increases edge, Benson keep leads in Michigan attorney general, SOS races

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan Attorney General candidates: Dana Nessel, (D), left, and Tom Leonard (R).

The Democratic candidates in Michigan’s attorney general and secretary of state races are maintaining healthy leads over their Republican opponents going into the last week of the campaign, according to a new poll. 

Democratic attorney general candidate Dana Nessel of Plymouth is leading Republican Tom Leonard of DeWitt 45 percent to 34 percent, with about 16.5 percent of the 600 likely voters undecided, The Detroit News-WDIV survey found.

The prior poll conducted by the Lansing-based Glengariff Group showed the heated contest had tightened to a 7-percentage-point lead by Nessel, but the latest survey found renewed backing for the 49-year-old defense attorney and former Wayne County assistant prosecutor.

The survey has a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Michigan Secretary of State candidates Jocelyn Benson, (D), left, and Mary Treder Lang (R).

For secretary of state, Democrat Jocelyn Benson of Detroit has a more than 11-point margin on the GOP's Mary Treder Lang of Grosse Pointe Farms, 45 percent to 34 percent. Nearly 17 percent of voters remain undecided, according to the poll.

Roughly 65 percent of the poll respondents were contacted by landline and 35 percent by cellphone. About 45 percent considered themselves Democrats, another 38.5 percent were Republicans and 15 percent were independents. 

Polling reflects a snapshot of voters’ inclinations and does not predict the outcome of an election.

Nessel has accused Leonard of taking money from special interests and ducking out of debates. Leonard has countered that Nessel also has refused a debate and that high campaign staff turnover coupled with staff complaints of a "toxic" environment in the workplace make her unfit to be attorney general.

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.

The polling shows Michiganians recognize the only candidate with "proper experience" is Nessel, her campaign said in a statement.

"Tom Leonard and the Michigan GOP can spend every penny from their special interest fueled committees, but the voters of Michigan see right through their brazenly false attack ads," the statement said. 

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Leonard's campaign called the poll an outlier that doesn't reflect the closer margin that's developed as voters learn of Leonard's plan to make the state "safer and stronger" and hear about Nessel's work as a defense attorney.

"This race is close, and Tom’s strong track record of delivering justice for Michigan families will make the difference in the end," said Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for the campaign.

None of the major party candidates have garnered increased name recognition, with Nessel peaking at 35 percent and Treder Lang the lowest at 29 percent.

Because of their low name recognition, the races are reverting the generic ballot test and voters are picking a candidate based on party, said Glengariff pollster Richard Czuba.

Campaigns need to boost the name identification of their candidates, he said, but face challenging conditions because of the flurry of ads crowding television, radio and mail a week before the election.

“It just becomes a giant blur,” Czuba said.

Third-party candidates in the attorney general race took a combined 4.5 percent of votes, with Libertarian Lisa Lane Gioia taking 2.8 percent, US Taxpayers candidate Gerald Van Sickle taking 1 percent and Independent Chris Graveline 0.7 percent.

In the secretary of state race, third-party candidates took 3.5 percent of the vote with Libertarian Gregory Scott Stemple supported by 1.5 percent of those surveyed. US Taxpayers candidate Robert Gale took 2 percent.


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Attorney general's race

Dana Nessel, Democrat: 44.9%

Tom Leonard, Republican: 34.2%

Lisa Lane Gioia, Libertarian: 2.8%

Gerald Van Sickle, US Taxpayers: 1%

Chris Graveline, independent: 0.7%

Undecided:  16.5%

Secretary of State's race

Jocelyn Benson, Democrat: 45%

Mary Treder Lang, Republican: 34%

Gregory Scott Stempfle, Libertarian: 1.5%

Robert Gale, US Taxpayers: 2%

Undecided: 16.8%

Note: Oct. 25-27 poll of 600 likely Michigan voters. Margin of error: plus-minus 4 percentage points. Totals may not be 100 percent because of rounding.

Source: Glengariff Group