Michigan attorney general race sees early intensity

By David Runk

Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) -- Plans by Michigan Democrats to pick their favorite for attorney general next month have brought an earlier-than-usual intensity to the race pitting attorney Richard Bernstein against Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.

On the Republican side, former Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop have until late August before GOP activists make their choice. Schuette is working to lock up endorsements with an active campaign, while Bishop is hoping his leadership role at the State Capitol will boost his chances.

The Nov. 3 winner will replace Mike Cox, a Republican who has hit the eight-year term limit and is running for governor. He has backed Schuette, but once nominations are settled the general election race could be as hard-fought as in 2002, when Cox won by a mere 5,200 votes out of nearly 3.1 million cast.

"The lines are pretty much clearly drawn with the exception that there is a growing number of independents. How those independents cast ballots down the ticket ... we can't say," said Craig Ruff of Public Sector Consultants, a nonpartisan Lansing think tank.

Generally, the governor's race at the top of the ticket is a big factor in how candidates farther down the ticket do.

The Democratic race pits Bernstein, one of the better-known plaintiff's lawyers in the state and the son of "Call Sam" personal injury lawyer Sam Bernstein, against Leyton, the only prosecutor in the race. Bernstein, 36, has the support of trial lawyers and a growing number of Democratic leaders, while law enforcement and key labor groups are largely leaning Leyton's way.

Leyton, 56, said his experience as a prosecutor in one of the state's more populous counties gives him an electoral edge. If elected, he would focus on fighting crime, protecting the environment, consumer protection, fighting Medicaid fraud and returning ethical standards to state contracting.

"With that background as a prosecutor, I bring with me all of the important Democratic Party values," said Leyton, who was a civil lawyer and Flint Township board member before being elected prosecutor in 2004. "Strong on consumer protection. Looking out for children and senior citizens."

Bernstein, who is blind, said he wants to crack down on corporate wrongdoing, health insurance companies that deny coverage, environmental pollution and abuse in nursing homes. He said being blind has forced him to fight as an underdog throughout his career, something he would carry on as attorney general.

"The reason that I am so passionate is that I want to take on the real battles that are affecting people, not just the cosmetic ones," said Bernstein, who started and leads the public service division of his father's firm. He's also the chairman of Wayne State University's Board of Governors. He won statewide election to the board in 2002.

Bernstein and Leyton both have a few weeks to press their case ahead of their party's endorsement convention in Detroit. The party can't formally nominate candidates until August and August convention delegates technically could endorse a different candidate than the winner of April's endorsement convention, although that's unlikely.

State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer says narrowing the field to one candidate next month will allow the favorite to run a six-month, rather than two-month, campaign before the November election. That means more time to raise money and campaign than the eventual GOP nominee will have.

Republicans plan to hold their nominating convention Aug. 28. The matchup features Schuette, a former congressman who has gotten a number of endorsements from top Republicans, including Cox and former GOP Gov. John Engler, and the 43-year-old Bishop, whose campaigning has been limited by time-consuming budget wrangling in Lansing.

Schuette, 56, sees the election as a referendum on Lansing's policies in the last eight years. If elected, he wants to be both an advocate for crime victims and an ally for crime fighters.

"We need a whole new team for Michigan. The attorney general touches so many aspects of issues that impact Michigan families, from economic issues to social issues," said Schuette, who also has served in the Michigan Senate and as state agriculture director. "I believe now there is such a desire for a fresh approach."

Bishop, however, sees his Lansing experience as an asset that shows proven leadership and an ability to win. He said he would bring a focus on consumer protection and fraud protection, as well as the need to root out public corruption that he said has become widespread in Michigan.

"My job requires that I'm hands-on right now, developing the budget," said Bishop, an attorney who has been in the state Senate since 2003 and was a state representative from 1999 to 2002.

"It gives me opportunity to be ... out in public stating what I believe. When it comes to delegates," he added, "there's nothing more important to consider about who to nominate than someone who has proven to be a leader."

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On the Net:

Richard Bernstein:

http://www.bernsteinformichigan.com

Mike Bishop:

http://www.mikebishop.com

David Leyton:

http://www.davidleyton.com

Bill Schuette:

http://www.billschuette.com

Published: Tue, Mar 30, 2010

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