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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel defeats Trump pick Matthew DePerno

Dana Nessel, Matthew DePerno
  • Incumbent Democrat Dana Nessel defeated GOP challenger Matthew DePerno for Michigan Attorney General
  • DePerno was a Trump-endorsed opponent who remains under investigation in Michigan for possible tabulator tampering 
  • Nessel's win was part of a big night for Democratic women in Michigan

Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel defeated pro-Trump Republican challenger Matthew DePerno in the race for Michigan attorney general on Tuesday.

With 87 percent of the statewide vote counted late Wednesday morning, Nessel had 52.8 percent of the vote while GOP nominee DePerno had 44.9 percent.

Following a fall campaign largely dominated by culture war issues and Republican attacks on the voting process, Nessel, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Michigan, reached out to LGBTQ youth who found themselves caught in the crossfire of attacks on school library books and girls sports.

"For all the LGBTQ kids out there who were demonized and whose lives were weaponized by sad and broken adults during this election cycle: You are good enough. Your lives and stories matter. God loves you just as you are. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise," Nessel wrote on Twitter.

She said the election results in Michigan, which show several statewide Democrats leading over Republicans, affirmed the state’s values including “love over hate, hope over fear, unity over division, science over ignorance, equality over bigotry and racism, facts over lies and democracy over fascism.” 

Shortly after 9 a.m., DePerno sent an email to supporters saying "the election has not gone the way we all hoped, I am proud of the race we ran."

"Although I may be conceding to Dana Nessel today, I refuse to concede that Michigan is a blue state. I will continue to fight like hell to restore Michigan to all it can be," DePerno wrote.

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Nessel, a Plymouth Democrat, was a Wayne County assistant prosecutor and defense attorney who worked on a landmark case that eventually helped lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage around the country, before being elected as attorney general four years ago.  

While in office, Nessel has focused on progressive issues while investigating the Catholic Church for sexual abuse and pursing a mostly losing legal battle to close Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. 

She opposed many policies set forth by the Trump administration, and her office also started new investigative units and worked to expand criminal expungement.

But her office has also had setbacks in attempting to prosecute the Flint water crisis, and her glib style has attracted detractors.

DePerno is best known for unsuccessful legal challenges aimed at undermining 2020 presidential election results in Antrim County and elsewhere, and was later rewarded for his work with an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. 

He remains the target of a criminal investigation by a special prosecutor, who is probing whether DePerno participated in a vote tabulator tampering scheme. DePerno has denied the allegations and claims he’s the victim of political persecution.

The investigation was launched by Nessel’s office but is currently in the hands of Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson, who recently announced he would not complete his investigation prior to Election Day. 

Despite his controversies and significantly lagging behind Nessel in fundraising and name recognition, DePerno closed the gap in polling in recent weeks, bringing the race to a statistical tie. 

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The race was contentious from the start, as Nessel and DePerno have diametrically opposite views on most issues, including the 2020 election and abortion rights. 

Nessel defended the 2020 election results and said she would work to block the 1931 law banning abortion from being implemented, while DePerno supports a forensic audit of the 2020 election and has vowed to enforce the 1931 law. 

He also supports banning the emergency contraceptive Plan B.

On the campaign trail, DePerno frequently referred to an off-the-cuff comment Nessel made saying she wanted a “drag queen for every school” during a speech that argued conservatives were raising “fake issues” about gender. Nessel said she was joking, but the remark took on a life of its own and has appeared in several attack ads.

Nessel has accused DePerno of being homophobic and transphobic, citing his frequent use of the word “Groomer General” to describe her. She declined DePerno’s request for three debates.

The winner of the race will oversee a $108 million budget and more than 500 lawyers, investigators, and other staff in an office tasked with ensuring consumer protection, public safety, civil suits, victims rights, addressing illegal business practices and more.

If re-elected, Nessel has said she hopes to dive deeper into consumer protection issues, increase cybersecurity, combat organized retail crimes and continue working on a pilot job court diverting low-level offenders away from the criminal justice system into job training initiatives. 

DePerno has offered few specifics about what he’d do in office, but has promised on the campaign trail to crack down on crime and issue an opinion “on day one” declaring critical race theory unconstitutional.

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