DETROIT – It wasn’t the governor’s race about which Democrats gathered here were really nervous. Rather it was the possibility that the state attorney general’s office would be held by Republicans for the first time in almost half a century.
State Sen. Gary Peters, the Democrat nominee, was running neck and neck with Republican Mike Cox, and the race was too close to call at 4 a.m. At that time, Cox and Peters were tied at 49 percent with 91 percent reporting. A recount was possible with the race so close.
The race was to find a successor for Jennifer Granholm, who declined to seek re-election to the post, instead running a victorious campaign for governor.
“It sounds like it’s too close to call,” said Deputy Attorney General William Richards, a Peters supporter, just after midnight. “I hope he’ll win.”
At about 9 p.m. large television screens at the Renaissance Center Mariott Hotel showed Peters and Cox tied with 49 percent each. At 2:35 a.m. and with 45 percent of the vote counted, Peters led Cox 51 to 47 percent.
The race between the two had also become the center of Republican hopes to control the lower half of the executive branch with the election of Democrats Granholm and John Cherry Jr. to the offices of governor and lieutenant governor. Exit polls early in the night already showed Byron Center Republican Terri Land beating Detroit attorney Melvin Butch Hollowell in the race for secretary of state.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Peters spokesman Mark Fisk said about an hour after polls closed. “It’s all going to depend on turnout.”
As election results began to flow in last night and exit polls showed the two candidates neck-and-neck, Cox told Republicans at Lansing’s Radisson Hotel it would be a long night.
He was confident, however, that in the wee hours of the morning he would prevail.
“It’s a tight race and at the end of the day, I think enough people have heard my message,” he said. “I was the underdog but I’m closing fast and I think I’m going to pass (Peters).”
Cox said his message of experience connected with Michigan voters. He currently heads the homicide division of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office and said Peters is too inexperienced to head the state’s top law office.
Later in the night, state Democratic Party spokesman Ben Kohrman said, “It’s going to be tight and it’s going to be late.”
The race came down to a de facto referendum on the role of the attorney general, with Livonia’s Cox, saying the office should become more of an outlet to for solving violent crime and in cracking down on those evading child support payments. Bloomfield Township’s Peters, on the other hand, argued a vote for him was a vote to keep the department’s focus on consumer protection issues.