Detroit, MI – Michigan Democrats gathered in Detroit this past weekend to try and get an early start on their November ticket.
The thinking - according to party chair Mark Brewer -- is that by choosing the Democrats running for attorney general and secretary of state now, Michigan Democrats will give their candidates a jump on the competition in organizing for a general election campaign and reaching out to the public.
"So now we'll start to work with our endorsed candidates to help them start to put together their campaigns, fundraising, publicity and so forth, looking forward to November," says Brewer.
By law, the selections must still be ratified at another convention in August, but Brewer says the fact that party activists have clearly stated their preferences will make huge difference.
The delegates endorsed Wayne State University law professor and elections expert Jocelyn Benson to be the nominee for secretary of state. She says Democrats liked her focus on clean and fair elections. Benson's been campaigning for the job for a year already, and has visited with Democrats in almost every Michigan county at least once.
"Now we can move forward and expand our audience and do that outreach to every single voter in this state," says Benson. "I believe our campaign is about non-partisan values of access and transparency and accountability, and I am really excited to take that message to voters throughout this state."
Benson easily bested Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who only entered the race in February.
There was a tighter competition for the attorney general nod. Attorney Richard Bernstein's name was already well-known throughout much of Michigan because of his family law firm's "Call Sam" TV ads. He had the capacity to bring a lot of money to the campaign.
Bernstein, who is legally blind, is also known as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
The race was very close, but more delegates were impressed by the labor credentials, law enforcement background, and fiery populism of Genessee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
"I will never forget that the attorney general is the people's lawyer and the people's advocate," Leyton thundered. "Not the representatives of the fat cats. Not the representatives of the bureaucrats. And not the representatives of Wall Street."
Leyton says, if elected, one of his first acts will be to reverse Republican Attorney General Mike Cox's decision to join a lawsuit challenging the new federal health care law.
Both Cox and Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land are term-limited. The GOP will choose its nominees for those offices at a summer convention.
The early endorsements could complicate the delicate job of ticket balancing once Democrats and Republicans choose their gubernatorial nominees in August primaries.
Bill Ballenger is the editor of Inside Michigan Politics. He says it could pose a problem for Democrats, who traditionally place a great deal of weight on ethnic and geographic balance.
"How will this complicate the selection of a lieutenant governor?," questions Ballenger. "Because there's no African-American on the ticket at this point. Also, the selection of nominees now gives the Republicans something to shoot at. It gives them targets for the next three months."
And Republican leaders wasted no time in interviews and press releases in deriding Benson and Leyton as tools of liberal special interests -- a drumbeat that will no doubt continue through the spring and summer.