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Can Democrats heal after bitter fight over attorney general race

The fight for the Democratic nod for state attorney general has gotten nasty with less than a week to go before Michigan Democrats decide on a candidate.

Democrats hold their endorsement convention on Sunday in Detroit. The idea is to do it early in the year, in order to give convention nominees several months to get a head start on organizing, fundraising, and messaging. And a few months to heal from bitter nomination battles which, it appears, the Democrats will need.

The fight for the AG nomination is between former U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles, an Obama appointee, and LGBT rights icon Dana Nessel. Corporate lawyer Bill Noakes is also in the race, though he’s running a largely below-the-radar effort.

The showdown has served as something of a proxy battle between the Democratic establishment, represented by Miles, and the progressive wing of the party, represented by Nessel.

It appeared for awhile that Nessel had Miles - the early favorite - on the ropes. But last week, Miles won the endorsement of the United Auto Workers, a force still to be reckoned with in Michigan Democratic politics. Which, it’s worth mentioning, also makes this a proxy battle for influence with the Michigan Education Association, which has endorsed Nessel.

Also last week, Miles filed a 68-page campaign finance complaint against Nessel, as well as announcing the endorsement of a prominent leader of the LGBT rights group Equality Michigan.

That came after Nessel’s team went to union leaders and pointed out the fact that Miles’ law career included working for law firms that list union-blocking among their services. There’s no evidence that Miles ever engaged in that type of work and he says he didn’t.

But, it all just shows how aggressive this campaign has gotten. And, continues to be.

At this point, what happens on Sunday is anyone’s guess. Nessel went on a recruiting binge and plans to bus delegates to the convention. Miles’ team will count on the UAW to help turn out folks.

Now, this is not the final word on the nomination. That legally can’t happen until the party’s summer convention. But this endorsement gathering gives Democrats a chance to give an early thumbs-up to a slate of candidates who have agreed to abide by the results.

And, whatever the results are, one thing is for sure: Republicans are loving the fight.

After the Miles campaign filed the campaign finance complaint against Nessel, the Republican Attorneys General Association tweeted, “Thanks @PatMilesMI for the head start on @dananessel’s opposition research file for the general election! We will put it to good use.”

This fierce nomination fight has already given Republicans plenty to use against whomever the Democrats nominate heading into November.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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