Labor Day generally signals the end of summer and the start of the fall political season, and the two men running for Michigan governor are launching what are expected to be tough-talking and expensive general election campaigns.
More is on the line than Republican Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero’s personal ambitions to lead the state. All 50 states will be redrawing district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats based on new census counts. Whichever party in Michigan holds the governorship and the most seats in the Legislature and on the Michigan Supreme Court will get the biggest number of favorable seats.
The outcome could influence Michigan’s course for the next decade, and Democrats and Republicans are pouring money into races up and down the ticket.
Snyder kicks off the season with an advantage because of his personal wealth and current lead in the polls. He led Bernero by more than 20 points in a recent EPIC-MRA poll and is better known than the Lansing mayor. The wealthy 52-year-old Ann Arbor businessman used to be the president at computer maker Gateway Inc. and is running both as a political outsider and as a job creator.
Bernero, a former state lawmaker, needs to prove by the end of the month that he can narrow the gap if he’s going to persuade donors – including unions – to pump in money so he can compete with Snyder, who spent $7.6 million to win the primary election, including $6.1 million of his own money.
Bernero was able to raise and spend only $1 million through mid-August, although third-party groups spent $2 million on television ads to help him beat House Speaker Andy Dillon, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He already has applied for $1.1 million in public funds for the general election.
Democrats do have some ammunition to use against Snyder. While Gateway added around 10,000 jobs while he was a company executive, Democrats point out that the company sent nearly all those jobs to other countries once Snyder left day-to-day management but remained on Gateway’s board.
Snyder says he and other board members weren’t responsible for that decision. But in a state that lost a million jobs over the past decade, any hint of outsourcing could hurt. It was a weak spot for Amway Corp. heir Dick DeVos, who lost to Granholm four years ago despite putting $35.4 million of his own money into his campaign.
Snyder and his running mate, former banker-turned-state Rep. Brian Calley, also need to deal with push-back from some tea partiers who don’t think they’re conservative enough and with Democrats trying to portray them as candidates more in line with Wall Street than economically struggling Michigan.
Snyder has positioned himself as a moderate who can appeal to independents and Democrats. The move has made him suspect in some GOP areas of the state, but could help him attract support in voter-rich southeast Michigan.
One of Bernero’s most important tasks will be to persuade voters in heavily Democratic Detroit to support him. He selected as his running mate Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, a black woman and former Detroit resident, which could bump up enthusiasm in the Motor City. Snyder also is campaigning in Detroit, and his lead in the polls gives him some wiggle room to go after Bernero’s supporters.
“We’ve got the luxury of going into places we think our campaign’s going to resonate,” Snyder campaign spokesman Bill Nowling recently told The Associated Press. Although he wouldn’t say when Snyder plans to begin running general election ads, Nowling said, “we have a chance in the next three to four weeks to dig a pretty big hole for the Democrats.”
Bernero is promoting his support for working-class voters and for manufacturing, which he accuses Snyder of dismissing. He wants state government to stop doing business with banks that won’t loan money to Michigan’s small businesses or help residents struggling to avoid foreclosure, and fiercely defends the federal loans that kept General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC afloat until their recent turnarounds.
“We are being robbed of our recovery and left for dead by Wall Street,” Bernero told reporters after a Lansing campaign stop last week.
He acknowledges that some pundits say he can’t win, but points out that he was 20 points behind Dillon in the primary at one point before coasting to an easy victory. He said he plans to start running campaign ads “soon.”
The Republican Governor’s Association has high hopes Snyder can return Michigan’s governorship to the GOP after eight years of Granholm.
The race also is a priority for national Democrats. Michigan has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in the last five national elections, and Democratic President Barack Obama would have a better chance of continuing that trend in 2012 if Michigan’s next governor is a Democrat who could help boost fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)