Column: Balanced ticket concerns both parties

Dennis Lennox

Attention shifts to the under-the-radar races for attorney general and secretary of state now that the filing deadline has passed and the field is set in the campaigns for governor and U.S. senator.

While Democrats have already endorsed candidates — technically, they still need to be nominated at a post-primary convention — Republicans haven’t sorted out who they will nominate to replace Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

Much has been made out of Democrats endorsing Dana Nessel over an African-American former U.S. attorney for attorney general. The Plymouth activist, who said not having male genitalia makes her more qualified, is reflective of how far left the Democratic Party has gone in recent years. Nessel will face the GOP nominee, either state House Speaker Tom Leonard or state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker.

As with the gubernatorial race, Leonard and Schuitmaker are firing broadsides at each other. Of course, the big difference is the electorate at the Republican convention on Aug. 25 in Lansing will be much smaller, with less than 2,000 voters.

Leonard cried foul after Schuitmaker’s campaign sought records associated with his wife’s job. Spouses are normally off-limits, but Jenell Leonard is a political operative in her own right, having worked under Calley before taking a senior appointment from Gov. Rick Snyder. Her records are fair game.

Meanwhile, Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot and Mary Treder Lang, a longtime GOP activist from Grosse Pointe Farms, are competing to run against Democrat A-lister Jocelyn Benson. The secretary of state race is much quieter with Grot and Treder Lang mostly focusing on recruiting convention delegates in each county. Also running is Joseph Guzman, though the Michigan State University professor hasn’t gained much traction.

Republicans could have an advantage if Gretchen Whitmer wins her party’s gubernatorial nomination and the entire Democratic ticket is white and female. The key word is could.

Republicans may do the opposite of Democrats and nominate an all-white, male ticket, if Leonard and Grot prevail and Sandy Pensler bests John James, an African-American, in the U.S. Senate primary.

Given the long history of Republican conventions putting ideology and litmus tests ahead of general election viability, it is unlikely that delegates will see the big picture and nominate a balanced ticket.

Democrats know they have a problem. If Whitmer wins you can guarantee she will be pressured to pick a token African-American from Detroit. Without high turnout from black voters the party struggles to win.

For Republicans, the problem is that neither Schuette nor Calley are from Metro Detroit. They can’t win without big numbers from the suburbs. But the Michigan Republican Party would be wise to get things under control to ensure a viable ticket balanced by sex, race and geography.

Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.