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Published: Saturday, 8/31/2002

Michigan GOP fields team of unknowns

DETROIT - Everybody automatically assumed Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus would pick a woman as his running mate, even before it was clear he would face Jennifer Granholm in the November election.

Having a woman on the ticket has been a virtual requirement for both parties since Martha Griffiths helped Jim Blanchard to victory in 1982. Four years ago, Mr. Posthumus became the first non-female lieutenant governor since then. Everyone also knows Republicans need to reach beyond their white male base.

There was speculation he might pick State Sen. Shirley Johnson (R., Royal Oak) or even reach outside conventional political circles for a woman who had made a mark in business or academia. But whomever he chose as number two, Republicans, who completed their ticket at their state convention in Detroit last weekend, were thought unlikely to nominate a woman for secretary of state.

Chuck Yob, the state's sometimes foot-in-his-mouth Republican National Committeeman, drew the wrath of the angels earlier this year for suggesting the party nominate another woman secretary “because they like that kind of work.” Even Mr. Posthumus belatedly denounced that statement, and joined a large chorus suggesting Mr. Yob resign, a suggestion that was cheerfully ignored.

So what happened? Two weeks ago, Mr. Posthumus stunned and dismayed many party activists by choosing a candidate for lieutenant governor who seemed almost a clone of himself. State Sen. Loren Bennett does bring some geographical balance to the ticket; he represents some affluent Detroit suburbs in Wayne County.

But otherwise, he looks, politically and otherwise, very much like Mr. Posthumus, who at 52 is exactly six months older than his running mate. Both are conservative, middle-aged white men who share a common liability. Neither is a dynamic personality, and both could probably walk into most Michigan shopping malls unrecognized.

Mr. Posthumus does have a degree in agriculture from Michigan State University. Mr. Bennett, who was Canton Township clerk before being elected to the legislature, took some courses from a two-year college in Wayne County, but did not graduate.

Interestingly, Mr. Bennett had not been interested in the lieutenant governor's job at all, but in the nomination for secretary of state, to replace the popular Candice Miller, who has to leave because of term limits. But even though he has been repeatedly honored as one of the most pro-business legislators in the state, hard-line and pro-life Republicans favored another candidate, Terri Lynn Land, a former Kent County Clerk.

Problem is, outside the Grand Rapids area, Ms. Land is utterly unknown. Two years ago, she was nominated for a seat on the state board of education, and was solidly beaten. And while it may be terribly unfair, try to envision what sort of woman Mr. Yob may have had in mind when he made his infamous remark that females “like that sort of work.”

Then glance at the picture on Ms. Land's Web site; it looks, frankly, like someone from a television movie about the girls in the steno pool.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, who were having their convention in Lansing, ratified Jennifer Granholm's choice of State Sen. John Cherry of Flint as lieutenant governor. Mr. Cherry, the minority leader, is strong where Ms. Granholm is weak, being a favorite of both the labor and hunting lobbies.

For secretary of state, the Democrats nominated Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, a savvy and ambitious 43-year-old lawyer who has close personal and political ties to Ms. Granholm and to not only the Detroit and Wayne County political machines, but also former Vice President Al Gore; he spent several weeks working on the recount in Florida after the last presidential election.

The one area where the candidates seem more closely matched on paper is attorney general. Republicans nominated Michael Cox, a smart and aggressive 41-year-old assistant Wayne County prosecutor and former U.S. Marine who has made a specialty of convicting hard-core murderers in Michigan's most hard-boiled county.

The Democratic nominee, Oakland County state Sen. Gary Peters, 43, is also a lawyer, but doesn't have a lot of courtroom experience. But what he does have is political and business savvy; he is also an MBA and was vice president of a major international investments firm before being elected to the legislature. He is also an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve and, despite his business experience, is close to labor.

Much can happen between now and November. But the bottom line is that after a dozen years in which John Engler thoroughly dominated Michigan politics, state Republicans are starting over with a team of relative unknowns. All the GOP nominees are less well-known than their rivals, and signs are that they may be more poorly funded.

That's especially significant since this is the first time since 1946 that not a single incumbent is running for re-election in any of the four statewide offices. That year, Republicans swept everything in sight. This year, it seems much more likely that exactly the opposite could happen - which would make Lansing a very different place indeed.



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