Michigan Attorney General candidate Dana Nessel attacked by her own words

SLIDESHOW: Democratic AG candidate Dana Nessel in her own words

Oct. 31, 2018: Here’s who has endorsed the 2018 Michigan Attorney General candidates

If nothing else, Dana Nessel has a talent for memorable sound-bites.

Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen, as Republican forces seek to cast Nessel as a radical Democratic leftist unfit to be Michigan’s next Attorney General – and that’s even before she has a named opponent for November’s general election.

Nessel gained plenty of notice, not all of it complimentary, last year when she ran an early campaign ad on the crest of the #MeToo movement touting herself as “the candidate who doesn’t have a penis.

Related: Truth Squad: Republicans attack Dana Nessel for firm’s defense on sex crimes

Now the Republican Attorneys General Association has launched a web video that captures the brash lawyer offering red meat to her progressive base at a series of campaign events:

  • “I will sue the Trump administrfation, all day, every day.”
  • “How about shutting down all these scam pregnancy crisis centers.”
  • “I am not going to defend unconstitutional laws that are passed by the state legislature.”
  • “I would like to go back to a time in our nation…where it was not legal to have assault weapons.”
  • “I will absolutely not cooperate with federal authorities.”
  • “Jeff Sessions, I think when he was a kid, like his father beat him with a marijuana leaf or something.
  • “Have a good day, I love you, try not to get murdered at school today.”

The clips – which play to goofy background music - appear to have been captured by a GOP operative at various Nessel stump speeches.

In a statement accompanying the video, RAGA Executive Director Scott Will said: “People expect the attorney general to approach the position with a seriousness that the job demands. Dana Nessel falls far short of that standard; she simply cannot be trusted.”

Veteran Lansing political analyst Bill Ballenger said he believes Nessel – even in what many forecast to be a “blue wave” election favoring Democrats – could be vulnerable to such attacks.

“This is the first dose of it, frankly,” Ballenger said. “I think it is pretty effective. Republicans don’t have to say anything. All they have to do is show her in her own words.”

Ballenger added: “There’s never been a candidate for attorney general like Dana Nessel. The question is, will the voting public accept her? That’s going to be the big question this fall.”

Nessel pulled an upset at the Democratic endorsement convention in Detroit in April as she defeated the presumptive favorite, former U.S. attorney Pat Miles, who had the backing of the UAW and many establishment Democrats. Her nomination will not be official until the Democratic convention in Lansing in August.

Related: Two Michigan Attorney General rivals. One day to make their pitch
Photo slideshow: A dogfight at the Michigan Democratic Party convention 

Nessel’s victory delighted many on the party’s left, who admire her blunt language and progressive policy stands. Indeed, it might be said that Nessel would not have beaten her establishment primary opponent had she not created such a buzz and excited her progressive base with her pugilistic remarks. This was never more apparent than in the frantic 10-hour endorsement contest at Detroit’s Cobo Center, where true believers repeatedly shouted her name and gave her standing ovations.

Still, Ballenger said there was inside talk at the Detroit event that the party may have fumbled its chance to win the office by choosing Nessel.

The GOP battle to replace term-limited Attorney General Bill Schuette won’t be settled until August. Delegates to the Republican convention in Lansing will choose between House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, and state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton.

Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon pushed back against the Republican line that Nessel’s inflammatory comments on the campaign trial will render her unelectable in November.

“Dana is authentic,” Dillon said. “What voters want out of their candidates more than anything else is authenticity. Dana is not constrained by typical notions of what candidates should and shouldn’t say.”

“The fact that they (Republicans) are out so early trying to spread this kind of nonsense – they know they are in for a really tough fight.”

Nessel, a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor, is best known as the lead attorney in the case that challenged Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. In her speech announcing her candidacy in 2017, she set out her progressive bonafides, promising to: file suit to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline under the Mackinac Straits; prosecute corporate polluters; stop prosecutions for marijuana;, expand LGBTQ protections, and ensure abusive cops aren’t allowed to find new jobs in other departments.

Nessel is also the first openly gay person to run as a major party candidate for statewide office in Michigan.

Angela Vasquez-Giroux Wittrock, spokesperson for Nessel, told Bridge in a statement that Nessel won’t be cowed by Republican attacks.

“This is a serious race,” she wrote, “with serious implications for millions of people ‒ the office of Michigan Attorney General is the last line of defense against hateful policies that will harm our friends, neighbors, and families. Michiganders won't be fooled by a slapstick video full of wildly mischaracterized statements.”

She added: “It’s no wonder her candidacy rattles RAGA: Dana’s shown that she can engage, motivate and unite a vast coalition of Democrats, Independents and, yes, even Republicans to support her now and in November.”

Wittrock also offered a full-throated defense some of Nessel’s attention-getting campaign lines:

To sue the Trump administration “all day, every day”

Democratic attorneys general “are the last line of defense against the Trump administration. To the extent you can use the office of attorney general to stop those policies from harming the state of Michigan, she will do that.”

“Shutting down scam pregnancy crisis centers”

Wittrock referred Bridge to an article in the Huffington Post that said such centers, typically faith based, “rely heavily on misleading or outright lying to women about reproductive health care in order to dissuade them from having abortions.”

“(N)ot going to defend unconstitutional laws that are passed by the state legislature.”

Wittrock said that likely refers either to a teachers’ union lawsuit that forced the state to return $554 million in pension funds the state had improperly deducted, or an ACLU lawsuit that seeks to bar the state from contracting with private agencies that turn away prospective foster and adoptive families due to their sexual orientation. Nessel has spoken out about both issues.

“I would like to go back to a time…where it was not legal to have assault weapons.”

Nessel supports a ban on assault weapons.

She will “absolutely not cooperate with federal authorities.”

Wittrock said the statement appears to be cut off in the video, so it’s unclear what Nessel may have been referencing. She said it’s either a reference to efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented residents – which she said Nessel would not assist – or to federal efforts to prosecute residents on marijuana charges when they are in compliance with state law.

Wittrock said Nessel had traveled to 69 Michigan counties before her April nomination and, “without seeing the full clip of each remark,” it’s hard to know for certain the context of each statement in the video.

“Try not get murdered at school today”

Nessel delivered that line at a February march for stricter gun control legislation, reflecting her stand on the issue.

The father of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “beat him with a marijuana leaf” when he was a kid.

Wittrock called that a humorous barb aimed at Sessions’ declared goal of enforcing federal marijuana laws against people who are in compliance with state marijuana laws. Nessel backs a ballot measure to legalize Michigan recreational marijuana use.

Lansing pollster Bernie Porn said it’s hard to know at this stage whether this Republican line of attack will be effective against Nessel if it’s funded as a major TV ad campaign.

“It’s conceivable she may even shine with some of these outrageous comments,” Porn said. There is, he said, a precedent for outrageous remarks actually helping a campaign. “Donald Trump has normalized a lot of this. You can’t tell until it’s connected to the candidate.”

Porn noted that on some of issues the video indirectly raises  – legalization of marijuana, immigration – polls suggest Nessel is on the winning side.

A 2014 poll by Porn’s firm, EPIC-MRA, found 64 percent of Michigan residents supported immigration reform plan that passed the U.S. Senate offering a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, though that was four years ago. A March EPIC-MRA poll found 61 percent favor legalization of marijuana.

House Speaker Leonard and Sen. Schuitmaker both oppose legalizing  recreational marijuana. (Some Republican lawmakers are nevertheless pushing for legislative approval of legalization if only to keep it off the November ballot and potentially drawing more Democratic voters to the polls. The Legislature has until June 5 to act.)

Among those under age 35, Porn said, 87 percent support legalization.

“That,” he said, “scares the hell out of Republicans.”

And to be fair, Nessel isn’t the only attorney general candidate who seems determined to run hard toward the base, rather than drift to the center. At a debate among the GOP hopefuls Thursday night in Oakland County, both Leonard and Schuitmaker vowed that they too will hold fast to their conservative views if they are the nominee.

“I will tell you this, when we compete against (Nessel) in the fall, we can’t beat her by running to the center,” Leonard told the crowd. “We’ve got to hit her punch for punch, pound for pound, whatever you want to call it... We’ve got to beat her by running to the right.”  

Even so, Republican pollster and consultant Steve Mitchell told Bridge he believes the Democratic Party muffed its chance at taking the AG race by nominating Nessel.

“The Democratic Party managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Mitchell said, adding that he believes Miles would have won the office had he been nominated.

“You have an African American who is popular in West Michigan where the Republican base is, who is running statewide. In short, he was a tremendous candidate.”

Nessel may well win progressive votes ‒ but at the expense of traditional Democrats and independents that Mitchell says she will need to carry the race.

“You better believe she is going to get hammered on all these issues. She is running to be the chief law enforcement officer of the state and you say you are not going to enforce laws? You are going to have a difficult time with independents.”

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Joel A. Levitt
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 9:13am

I hope Pat Miles changes his mind and decides to run in the primary. Pat is not glib. He has real legal leadership experience. He favors restorative justice, reforming and saving the future of adolescent criminals, and saving Michigan taxpayers some of the money they would otherwise have to pay to build more prisons. And, he is so revolted by Trump that he resigned as U.S. Attorney for the Western Michigan District on the day of Trump's inauguration.

Kathi Geukes
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 1:04pm

I totally agree with you.....Pat is the much better candidate but because she is gay....she got the votes.....don't ask me why......I don't like her and never will....hoping he wins in the general and kicks her sorry behind to the curb!!!!!

Cindy Clardy
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 10:33am

So tRump can be blunt as a candidate but Nessel can't? I call BS! Dana can tell truth from "alternative" facts and has no fear of speaking truth to power.

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 7:35am

Trump is unicorn. He was also a joke candidate; a headline seeking egomaniac on a reality show. He was also an outsider; so being blunt was part of his schtick.
Nessel is an unknown and, well, should not be using the Trump playbook to get elected.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 10:36am

Aside from her "junk" (which really isn't important in this day and age), can anyone tell me something actually noteworthy that this woman has accomplished?

Telling nearly 2.7-million Michiganians that they are wrong and then having the audacity to sue the state for nearly $2-million to pay for that "privilege" isn't exactly going to ingratiate herself with Michigan Voters come November.

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 10:56am

The fact that Nessel has had a Republican tracker following her around in order to get this footage shows that she is a serious threat to their party. The "top cop" model of running for AG is dated and has a track record of losing for the Dems. Nessel is a shake-up, and she got the nomination through grass-roots enthusiasm. That enthusiasm will make people show up to the polls in November. It's interesting that the commentariat like those quoted in the article just can't seem to accept her primary victory for the genuine accomplishment that it is.

Sandi Davidson
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 11:01am

Not saying yet whether I like her as a candidate, but, seriously, republicans question whether she's a viable candidate, say too glib-when they backed Trump and all his nastiness???

Sybil offen
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 12:12pm

Dana knows what it feels like to be an underdog and knows how to fight and win. She did it in April and She'll do it in November with the votes of all of us who identify with her authenticity.

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 12:13pm

Nessel’s comments make her sound as if she was running to be the Attorney General of California. Now is that where we really want Michigan to be? Can’t say that I agree with everything Schutte does, but for the most part he follows the law. An AG should follow the law, not make law.

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 4:43pm

Then you've not been keeping yourself informed on what schutte has done and said. If you don't like nessel that is fine, but comparing her to schutte isn't harming her odds ... at all. If the choice was between him and her, I'd vote for her every time. And what made schutte shittie as ag makes him even more so for governor.

Cindy Miller
Tue, 05/29/2018 - 4:24pm

Hooray! I will vote for her!

Vincent Delgado
Wed, 05/30/2018 - 8:28am

Good article. But I wish journalists would stop using Bill Ballenger and calling him a political analyst. People in Lansing and in the media know him to not be objective in his analysis. Most media outlets know not to use him.

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 4:37pm

But I thought repubs like it when a politician isn't polished, says it like it is, isn't p.c., and is one of us. They should love her! Oh. But that hypocrisy and double standards of the gop do in the way, don't they.

Independent Voice
Mon, 06/04/2018 - 11:39am

I will not vote for a candidate that totally embellished about appearing before the Supreme Court. I will not vote for a candidate that lack civility on the campaign lines. I will not vote fora candidate that refers to a male genital part just to garner votes. She has insulted some of the various organizations like the UAW and now you want to go on an apology tour to say I am sorry and play make-up. It will not work with me, my family or my network of community!!!! If Pat Miles name is not on that ballot, I will vote for the Republican AG candidate or leave it blank. I will not be voting a straight ticket for that reason!!!!! She is no different than the President making a statement that he grabs women by their "POCKETBOOK".......you know what I mean. A fighter does not have to be hostile, arrogant or rude. I was an ATTORNEY GENERAL that is able to bring respect, integrity and civility to that office......as the highest law enforcement officer in our state. Pat Miles is qualified, educated and already an experienced attorney general. That is what we need to take on some of these important matters in our state and during these perilous times. It speaks volumes when a conservative city like Grand Rapids would support Pat Miles!!!! Yes, the Republicans are laughing at the Democrats for making yet another MISTAKE!!!!!!!! I don't feel like DANA NESSEL would have my best interest at heart. Furthermore, the April Democratic Convention was only an endorsement convention, which is not official. Why waste the democrats resources by having this convention that is not the official nominating convention? The Republicans did not waste their time or party resources to make a mistake!! Just saying...................................................................................................................................!!!!!

Skid plate
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 1:15am

Bessel is a special interest project from the pit of Hell!

Erika Promislow
Sat, 11/10/2018 - 6:30pm

My only regret is that I have but one vote to give for Dana Nessel