WITH less than four months until election day, Gov. Jennifer Granholm is, by some accounts, in peril with voters in the state of Michigan.
Opinion polls show a steady erosion in ratings for the first-term Democrat. Critics - not just the Republican opposition - say she hasn't established herself in control in the Wolverine State, which continues to be plagued by unemployment and other economic woes.
In politics, where image can be everything (even though it shouldn't be), her failure or inability to define who she is spells trouble.
Worse, Governor Granholm is losing ground to, of all people, the heir to a billion-dollar business fortune whose only answer to Michigan's problems so far is a $7 million blanket of "I feel your pain" TV spots.
It's a Madison Avenue stretch, of course, to claim that the GOP challenger, Amway heir Dick DeVos, seriously feels anyone's paycheck pain. But the polls show him in a position to knock off Ms. Granholm.
Such a development might seem surprising, but it should not be a news flash to anyone who closely follows politics in Michigan, which at times has been a reliably Democratic state but nonetheless has harbored some very conservative politicians - Ms. Granholm's three-term predecessor, John Engler, for example.
As Blade columnist Jack Lessenberry has pointed out, the governor is smart and politically savvy, but most of all she is a captivating personality and a skilled orator. Relying heavily on that finesse, she ran a virtually "content-less" campaign in 2002, when she moved up from state attorney general to governor, winning only narrowly against a weak GOP opponent.
Moreover, Ms. Granholm is a decided political centrist in an age when some politicians feel compelled to take risky stands, like cutting taxes when the state already doesn't have the money to pay its bills. Did we mention that Mr. DeVos favors tax cuts? He does, at every turn.
It's also fair to note that the governor has labored since the day she took office under the weight of a $1.7 billion budget deficit run up by Mr. Engler and the Republican-led legislature. Needless to say, lawmakers haven't given her much help, and the downturn in the home-state auto industry has been devastating.
Nevertheless, if Governor Granholm has gained a reputation for marking time while Michigan vegetates - this week's influx of Google jobs notwithstanding - the problem can't be blamed entirely on others.
She has more than three months to convince voters she knows where she is leading them, but time is running out.