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Do early party endorsements give Democrats advantage or time for mistakes?

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The Democrats' endorsed candidate for Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson. She plans to appeal to all voters while the three Republican candidates will be focused on winning their party's nomination.

Republican candidates for two of the state’s top offices will be battling for their party’s nomination until the Republican nominating convention in August. Democrats for those two offices have those months to campaign for general election votes. The question is whether that gives Democrats an advantage?

A few years back the Democrats began stopping the nomination races earlier in the election year. In 2010 the then Democratic Party Chair, Mark Brewer, figured there had to be a better way than waiting until August to choose candidates and then prepare for the November election.

“When you have statewide offices like Secretary of State and Attorney General and Supreme Court, it’s very difficult to organize, raise money, and do all that you need to do in three months,” Brewer explained.

He suggested an endorsement convention to informally choose nominees for Attorney General, Secretary of State and candidates for the Supreme Court.

“The losing candidate endorses the winner and we move on as a unified party,” Brewer said.

In the intervening years, that strategy has not worked for Attorney General and Secretary of State. Republicans still won.

Brewer thinks in this year, when his party is hoping for a “Blue Wave” of Democratic voters, it could help make a difference.

“I think it’s kind of a smart idea on the part of the Democrats,” noted Ken Sikkema, a former Republican legislative leader during a recent appearance on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program.

“It just gives them more time for passions to subside and wounds to heal,” Sikkema added.

That is part of the idea, but, not everyone thinks an early endorsement campaign is a great idea. Matthew Resch has worked as a Republican strategist.

“That certainly makes sense from a conventional wisdom standpoint. I think that far of a head start for fundraising, for building name ID, for building a campaign base,  on paper that all sounds good,” Resch said, but he added, “I think, though, every candidate is different, every campaign year is different. And sometimes that time could be a time when mischief is made and candidates end up falling on their face.”

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Pat Miles at the Michigan Democrats' endorsement convention.

He thinks that’s a risk for the Democrats’ choice for Attorney General, Dana Nessel. Her opponent, Pat Miles, endorsed her at the convention, but losing him as an African American candidate has not gone unnoticed by some black voters.

“Now there’s this kind of, I think, upheaval and back-biting and second-guessing that is coming out about her endorsement that may cause some havoc for the ticket. There’s some grumbling that you’ve seen already in the press and from radio stations’ hosts down in Detroit specifically about the lack of racial diversity,” Resch said.

Jonathan Kinloch is the Democratic Chair of the 13th Congressional District, which includes a large part of Detroit. He told the Detroit News with no African American candidates, the Democratic ticket is, “going to be a tough sell to some of the folks in my neck of the woods.”

The Chair of the Democrat’s black caucus told M-Live that a slate with no African Americans was not reflective of the party and could come with a loss of enthusiasm from black voters.

Matthew Resch also thinks that without the back and forth between Democratic candidates running for Attorney General or Secretary of State, they won’t keep the attention of the voters.

“Especially with the Secretary of State and these down ticket races, if there’s not a compelling race to be had, no one in the public is going to pay attention,” he said.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Jocelyn Benson accepting the Democratic party endorsement.

But the Democrats’ endorsed candidate for Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, disagrees. She told reporters at the convention she can now concentrate on all the voters, not just Democrats.

“I’m going to work hard every day to ensure that voters in November know the real choice, the clear choice they’ll have in the Secretary of State’s office between someone who’s been a lifelong advocate for election security and voters’ rights and someone who, depending on who opposes us, may take us in the wrong direction,” Benson said.

While she’s doing that, each of the three Republican candidates will be spending most of their time with Republican party members trying to get the August nomination. Democrats and independents will hear from them after that.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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