Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's legal maneuver this week to rally nine states in support of Arizona's immigration law in federal court against the Obama administration could give him the edge in a tightly contested gubernatorial primary against four other Republicans that is less than three weeks away.
Cox is one of the top three Republican candidates in the race struggling to break away from the pack – the other two are Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder -- and his legal brief arguing that states have the authority to enforce immigration laws and protect their borders couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
"He's doing everything he can to use the office of attorney general to prove he is a certifiable conservative," Craig Ruff, a senior policy fellow at a Lansing-based think tank and an expert on state politics, told FoxNews.com.
Ruff asserted that most people are unaware of what an attorney general does.
"Attorney generals tend to make their names on causes they pursue," he said. "Mike Cox started off going after deadbeat dads. But in this election, he's bitten off two major battles to derail national Democratic policies. And what he's trying to do is show conservative rank-and-file that he is one of them."
Earlier this year, Cox clashed with the Obama administration, joining more than a dozen other attorneys general to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of federal health care changes signed into law by the Democratic president.
Polls show that Cox holds a slight lead over Hoekstra and Snyder.
A spokeswoman for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who can't seek re-election because of term limits, was skeptical of Cox's motive to file the brief now.
"It's a patently political ploy in his quest for the Republican nomination for governor," spokeswoman Liz Boyd said.
But the Cox campaign disputed the notion that the legal brief was politically motivated.
"Mike Cox is standing up for state sovereignty," spokesman Nick Deleeuw told FoxNews.com. "He's standing up to the president because it's the right thing to do."
"By lawsuit, rather than by legislation, the federal government seeks to negate this preexisting power of the states to verify a person's immigration status and similarly seeks to reject the assistance that the states can lawfully provide to the Federal government," the brief states.
The Arizona law, set to take effect July 29, directs officers to question people about their immigration status during the enforcement of other laws such as traffic stops and if there's a reasonable suspicion they're in the U.S. illegally.
President Obama's administration recently filed suit in federal court to block it, arguing immigration is a federal issue. The law's backers say Congress isn't doing anything meaningful about illegal immigration, so it's the state's duty to step up.
The other Republican candidates said they support Cox's move and don't believe it will be a factor in the primary.
Hoeskstra "supports the attorney general on this but at the end of the day, this election is going to be about bringing jobs to Michigan and leadership," spokeswoman Sara Sendek told FoxNews.com. "And so Michigan voters are going to look for the best leader who can turn the economy around and that's what this election is about."
"It's undeniable the No. 1 issue is the economy and we feel strongly our candidate has the best qualifications on this issue," Snyder campaign spokesman Jake Suski told FoxNews.com. "Rick Snyder is the only job creator running for governor and the only one with a detailed economic plan to turn around the economy."
"Mike Bouchard has been a leader on the issues that matter to Michigan for 24 years and that hasn't changed in his campaign for governor," spokeswoman Kathryn Martin said in an e-mail. "He stood up with Arizona the day they introduced this bill… Mike believes that Washington isn't doing their job and as a 24-year-law enforcement officer, you can bet that if it starts with 'illegal' he's gonna be against it."
Ruff said the legal maneuver gives Cox an edge but isn't a gamechanger.
"It's definitely not that," he said. "What it does is give a mild boost to Cox. He gets a day's story out of it. He's probably not going to get a three-day story. The other candidates are right. This is about economic conditions and how to get out of it. It's not abortion, it's not firearms. It's all about the creation of jobs."