A number of key state-level positions are up for grabs this election due to term limits. In addition to the governorship, Michigan voters will elect the state's next attorney general, secretary of state, and two state Supreme Court justices.
Michigan Governor: Gretchen Whitmer vs. Bill Schuette
It has been said that the midterm elections will be a referendum on the presidential election, and Michigan's gubernatorial race contains several echoes of 2016.
On the Democrat side is Gretchen Whitmer, a former East Lansing lawyer who served in Michigan's state House in 2000 and the Senate in 2006. Like Hillary Clinton, Whitmer is considered to be the party establishment choice, having vanquished primary opposition that billed themselves as further to the left (Bernie Sanders in 2016, Abdul El-Sayed in 2018).
On the Republican side is Attorney General Bill Schuette of Midland, who has eagerly sought to link himself with Donald Trump, earning the president's endorsement and even tweaking Trump's slogan to "Make Michigan Great Again." Like Trump, Schuette has been shunned by high-profile members of his party on the campaign trail, with Gov. Rick Snyder refusing to endorse him. Also like Trump, Schuette was the recipient of a pre-election "October surprise." In Trump's case, that was leaked hot mic audio from a 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which Trump openly boasted about grabbing women "by the pussy." In Schuette's case, a tape surfaced from 1989 in which the then-congressman is seen appearing to flirt with a camerawoman. Schuette has since denounced the video as "my poor attempt at being humorous 30 years ago."
The two candidates' platforms largely align with their parties' philosophies. Whitmer's platform calls for investment in Michigan's crumbling infrastructure — one of her popular campaign slogans is her folksy yet effective pledge to "fix the damn roads," which she says she could do with $2 billion in additional spending funded with fuel taxes or government borrowing. Schuette, meanwhile, intends to cut the state's 4.25 percent income tax to 3.9 percent. On education, Whitmer supports universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds and calls for closing underperforming for-profit charter schools; Schuette has not called for increased scrutiny of for-profit charters. Whitmer supports all three of Michigan's proposals (marijuana legalization, redistricting, and expanding voter access), while Schuette does not. Both candidates have pledged to eliminate Michigan's tax on pension income.
On the campaign trail, Schuette has criticized Whitmer for making few achievements while serving in the House and Senate, though Whitmer faced plenty of opposition as a member of the minority caucus in a Republican-dominated legislature. Whitmer, however, paints herself as a bipartisan leader who can reach across the aisle: she voted along with Snyder to expand Medicaid to more than 650,000 Michiganders as part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Schuette, meanwhile, vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare, although he now claims he would support keeping the ACA's coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. As AG, Schuette has been criticized for serving his career and party over the will of Michigan voters by cracking down on medical marijuana, supporting Michigan's emergency manager law, and fighting against same-sex marriage, among other unpopular decisions.
So far, Whitmer has outraised and outspent Schuette, with Whitmer raising at least $12 million since the primary compared to Schuette's $8 million. Numerous polls have given Whitmer a comfortable edge over Schuette, but one poll released at the end of October suggested the gap could be narrowing. Another fact that favors Whitmer is Michigan's tendency to flip the governorship; the last time consecutive governors from the same party were elected was 1969.
Libertarian Bill Gelineau enjoys the status of being the first third-party candidate in Michigan elected in a gubernatorial primary in almost 50 years. Gelineau has said his goal is to earn at least 5 percent of the vote so Michigan Libertarians can continue to be a primary-qualifying party. (Recent polls have placed him at 3 percent.)
The race also includes Todd Schleiger of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, Keith Butkovich of the Natural Law Party, and Jennifer Kurland of the Green Party.
Michigan Attorney General: Tom Leonard vs. Dana Nessel
This race features state House speaker Rep. Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) and Plymouth attorney Dana Nessel. Leonard is a former assistant prosecutor for Genesee County, and Nessel is known for bringing the case that overturned Michigan's same-sex marriage ban in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Leonard says he'll be tough on crime while working to keep "those in need" from re-offending. He says he'll do that by relying on specialized diversion courts for people with substance abuse problems and the mentally ill. He says he also wants to make it easier for offenders to find employment when they're out of jail, and points to his work on bipartisan expungement legislation. He has not said whether he supports the proposal to legalize marijuana but says his office will enforce whatever voters decide.
Nessel, meanwhile, has blasted Republicans' approach to criminal justice — telling Bridge Magazine that their "policies are inhumane, costly, and do nothing to enhance public safety." She is a proponent of marijuana legalization and says she will fight for legislation to expunge past marijuana-related convictions should Prop 1 pass. Additionally, she says she'll advocate to put specialized courts in every jurisdiction, create a "Conviction Integrity Unit" to investigate wrongful convictions, and establish a "Police Conduct Review Team" to investigate abuses of power by officers.
The race also features two lesser-known third party and independent candidates. Libertarian Lisa Lane Gioia's positions largely reflect her party, in that she's against things like civil asset forfeiture and prosecuting any nonviolent drug-related crimes. She also unequivocally supports gun rights and wants to put an end to certain forms of taxation. Chris Graveline, meanwhile, is an independent trying to remain above the political fray. He says he's committed to running an office free of partisanship and won't take sides on policy issues. Instead, he says he hopes to diminish homicide rates, bolster local law enforcement agencies, and pursue justice.
As of late October, Nessel and Leonard were polling at a tie.
Secretary of State: Jocelyn Benson (D) vs. Mary Treder Lang (R)
This race pits former Wayne State University Law School dean Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, against Grosse Pointe Farms accountant Mary Treder Lang, a Republican.
Benson is focused on expanding voting access, and says she'd support no-reason absentee voting, early voting, modernizing Michigan's voter registration system, and limiting efforts to "intentionally deceive voters about their rights." (Lang, meanwhile, says she supports no-reason absentee voting, but says any change should require people to appear at a Secretary of State branch with their ID.) Benson also says she wants to make Michigan one of the most transparent states in the nation by "championing reforms that shine a light on the secret money flowing into our election process and require instant disclosure of all political and lobbying money."
Lang, for her part, says she's focussed on recruiting poll workers and providing better training to clerks. She also wants to clear the voter rolls of the deceased and make sure people registered in multiple states aren't voting in Michigan. However, she has admitted there's no evidence that possible errors in the voter rolls are being used to commit fraud. She believes campaign finance laws in the state are being adequately enforced, but says she would support tougher penalties for violators.
Both candidates say they'll shorten wait times at Secretary of State branches.
Libertarian Gregory Stempfle is also on the ballot for this position.
Michigan Supreme Court: Kurtis Wilder, Beth Clement, Sam Bagenstos, Megan Cavanagh
Kurtis Wilder and Beth Clement are the incumbents and were appointed to the court by Governor Rick Snyder. Both have the backing of the state GOP. Wilder, a self-proclaimed "rule of law" justice, has been a judge for more than two decades. Clement served as legal counsel to the governor before being elevated to justice, and, in her short time on the court, has made a name for herself by breaking with other right-leaning judges on issues like gun control and gerrymandering.
Sam Bagenstos and Megan Cavanaugh are endorsed by the Michigan Democratic Party. Bagenstos is a law professor at the University of Michigan specializing in civil rights and employment law at University of Michigan Law School. Cavanagh is an appellate specialist at a metro Detroit law firm whose father served on the court.
Doug Dern and Kerry Lee Morgan, who do not have the backing of either major party, will also appear on the ballot.
Voters will get to pick two candidates.
Find more 2018 Election Guide coverage here.
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