Saturday, Sep 22, 2018
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Michigan's message


Michigan’s primary election last week produced few surprises.

Bill Schuette, Michigan’s attorney general, easily won the Republican nomination, getting twice as many votes as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, his closest rival.

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Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, the former minority leader in the Michigan Senate, finished far ahead of Abdul El-Sayed, the candidate of the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. In a bizarre sideshow, Shri Thanedar, a quixotic businessman who grew up in India, spent at least $10 million of his personal fortune on slickly produced TV commercials that won him a mere one-sixth of the vote.

Now, each nominee has less than three months to persuade voters that he, or she, is the right choice to lead Michigan into the future.

Both candidates have an advantage over the state’s last two governors: Both are seasoned politicians who spent years in the legislature, and know a lot about how Michigan government works.

Each has baggage to overcome. Ms. Whitmer, a native of the Lansing area, has never held an executive position, and is still not well known in vote-rich metropolitan Detroit. The better-known Mr. Schuette has taken positions on social issues to the right of most Michigan voters, and is closely identified with President Trump — an advantage in a Republican primary, but possibly less so in a general election.

Moreover, Michigan voters tend to switch party control every eight years. And not only is Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration generally unpopular (largely because of the Flint water crisis) but Mr. Snyder and Mr. Schuette clearly loathe each other.

Voters should demand that both major party candidates for governor get very specific about how they will make Michigan government function more efficiently and responsively — how it will make life a little better for Michiganders.

Republicans also nominated a remarkable young candidate for the U.S. Senate. He is John James, an African-American hero of Operation Iraqi Freedom who later built up a successful family business. Mr. James trailed a better-funded primary challenger in most polls, but won easily after an enthusiastic endorsement from the President.

Defeating the three-term incumbent, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, is a high hurdle. She is popular, has demonstrated bipartisan appeal, especially to farmers, and has a $15 million campaign war chest. Michigan surprised many by giving its electoral votes to President Trump in 2016. But the margin was razor thin.

What happens in Michigan in November will be an indication of the extent of the voters’ taste for more change and their confidence, or lack thereof, in the president’s policies and style.

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