Challenger Karen McDonald was leading Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper in the Democratic primary Tuesday night, according to early results.

With 19 of 506 precincts reporting, McDonald had a 2-1 lead over Cooper, who is seeking her fourth term. The winner will face Republican attorney Lin Goetz, who was unopposed for her party’s nomination.

In the races for a four-year term as Oakland County executive, incumbent David Coulter was leading Democratic opponent and county treasurer Andy Meisner with 53% of the vote while in the Republican race, Mike Kowal was leading Jeffrey Nutt with about 72% of the vote. 

The winners of Tuesday’s primary will face off in November’s election for the county’s top position. The winner will become the first person other than the late L. Brooks Patterson to win a full term as county executive in more than 30 years.

After Patterson’s death a year ago, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners voted 11-10 along party lines to appoint Coulter, the first Democrat to hold the office. Coulter served as Ferndale mayor for nine years, and served two terms as a county commissioner.

ELECTION RESULTS: Follow along for Oakland County results

Coulter said he’ll draw on his government experience if he’s elected to continue as executive — and he said he plans on “taking an entirely different tack than Brooks Patterson.”

“Brooks was wonderful in economic development and supporting the business community, and we can build on those things,” Coulter said. “But we can be both fiscally responsible and progressive.”

Republican Kowall, a former state Senate majority floor leader and state representative from White Lake, said he’s concerned about Oakland County’s fiscal future. Kowall also said he wants to build on Patterson’s economic success.

“I’ve done this before — gotten into elected office where we had to dig out of a lot of debt, and Oakland County is going to have that happen before too long if we continue,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being careful how we spend money.

Paula Williams, 52, of Rochester Hills, who cast her ballot at voted at Hampton Elementary School, said she voted for Kowall because she saw him as best suited to carry on Patterson’s policies.

“I wanted to make sure my voice was heard for the Oakland County Executive… because L. Brooks Patterson who died, I think he did a great job in running Oakland County and I wanted to make sure, whoever held his seat, have the same values that L. Brooks Patterson did,” she said. 

Meisner said he brings “extensive experience to the table as county treasurer for 11 years and six years as a state representative.”

Meisner touted his 2004 bill that created drug courts in Michigan that give judges more flexibility in sentencing nonviolent offenders, and legislation he sponsored for stem cell research.

When he was elected county treasurer in 2008, Meisner became the first Democrat elected countywide in 40 years and has been the top Democratic vote-getter in Oakland County for the past three cycles. 

While the other candidates pointed to their experience in government work as reasons why they should be elected, Nutt touted the fact that he’s never held an elected position as a strength.

“I’m not a career politician, so I’m not beholden to special interests,” the Republican attorney said.

Nutt, who served as a judicial intern for former U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger, said, “I’m the conservative voice in this race for the best health care, best transportation and government operations like Brooks Patterson pioneered.”

McDonald, who resigned as an Oakland County circuit judge last year to challenge Cooper, campaigned on a platform of change and reform, pledging to implement “common sense criminal justice reform, participating in treatment courts, establishing new mental health courts, and finding smarter alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level offenders …”

Cooper ran on her record of managing the office’s 170-person staff and $23 million budget over the past 12 years, saying she has a record of getting violent criminals — including juveniles — off the street and keeping them behind bars.

McDonald was an assistant prosecutor from 1999 to 2004, leaving four years before Cooper took office. She was elected to the circuit bench in 2012, re-elected in 2018, and resigned in April 2019.

Cooper, who was Southfield’s chief judge, an Oakland County circuit judge and a Michigan Court of Appeals judge before running for prosecutor, said she was the “first prosecutor in the United States to train all the professional staff in a course known as Implicit Bias.”

“My life experience as a civil rights advocate and a civil rights attorney brings with it the commitment to fairness and change,” Cooper said.

McDonald was endorsed by several high-profile Democratic officials, including Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and state Attorney General Dana Nessel, as well as former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Cooper was endorsed by the Michigan Association of Public Employees; the Michigan Association of Police; the Police Officers Association of Michigan; the Michigan Association of Firefighters; the Southeast Michigan Association of Police Chiefs, and the Oakland County Association of Police Chiefs

Waiting to find out which of the two Democrats will face her in November was Goetz, a Lake Orion attorney with 28 years of experience in criminal law both as an assistant prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Ariana Taylor contributed.

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