Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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A preview of the GOP race for Michigan governor


Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announces his gubernatorial campaign Sept. 12 at the Midland County Fairgrounds in Midland, Mich.


DETROIT — In exactly a month and a day, Michigan voters will select two major party candidates for governor after one of the longest and most expensive primary campaigns in history.

But who is going to win — and why?

This is a state where voters stunned the experts by voting for Donald Trump two years ago. On the other hand, Michigan’s current governor is blamed for the lead poisoning of an entire city — Flint — and for waiting too long to do anything about it.

Michigan is also a state that was once one of the nation’s wealthiest, and whose citizens are now poorer than average, where the roads are falling apart, and where many schools are failing to do an adequate job educating the kids, and college graduates are leaving the state to find work.

The Democrat generally thought of as the front-runner, Gretchen Whitmer, officially began running while President Obama was still in the White House. The Republican leader, Bill Schuette, has been unofficially running longer than that.

Both have major challengers, however, who have spent millions on the race; all are fighting for a slice of a heavily polarized electorate, and all the candidates are struggling to convince voters they could make Michigan better.

The odds should favor the Democrats. Michigan voters have a strong tradition of replacing retiring incumbents of one party with a new governor from the other.

But traditions are made to be broken — and in the past, Michigan’s maverick voters have often been happy to break them; just remember Bernie Sanders stunning victory in the Democratic presidential primary two years ago, or John Engler’s upset win for governor in 1990.

Here’s a quick handicapper’s look at where things stand in the GOP race for governor; next week, the Democrats:


Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, 64, is the clear frontrunner, and has been running for governor, some say since he was elected attorney general in 2010.

He’s a strong supporter of President Trump, who endorsed him early on in a tweet that unfortunately misspelled his name. Personally wealthy by inheritance, he has raised millions, much of it from major corporations.

In the current campaign, the attorney general sometimes seems to be running against the Snyder administration as much as the Democrats. He is also a career politician who has been in elected or appointed office most of his adult life, serving in the past as congressman, state senator, agricultural commissioner, and an appellate court judge. Up till now, his only election defeat came in 1990, when he lost badly to U.S. Sen, Carl Levin.

While no one can say Bill Schuette lacks experience, he also would find it hard to deny being a political insider.

He has long strongly appealed to social conservatives, opposing same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana in addition to abortion.

While his tactics seem designed to win him a GOP nomination, some question how this will play in a general election. Watch for him to move left if he wins the primary; he has already slammed Mr. Snyder’s decision to tax pensions.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, the attorney general’s main primary opponent, is trying to become the first lieutenant governor to be elected governor since 1960. The odds seem to be against him.

Mr. Calley, a former state representative who became lieutenant governor at 33, has been a faithful supporter of his boss. He helped Rick Snyder learn to work with the legislature, and in return, Mr. Snyder is a strong backer of his efforts to succeed him.

Brian Calley is also a hero to the autism community. His daughter Reagan has autism, and the candidate played a leading role in requiring insurers to cover conditions related to autism, and to ending the mistreatment of autistic children in schools. But he faces an uphill battle against the better-known and better funded Mr. Schuette. For one thing, the Snyder administration is not very popular these days.

He clearly wants to be seen as a slightly more moderate candidate than his main rival. However, the era when moderates made up a significant part of GOP primary voters is long past.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck, 52, a former aerospace engineer is easily in a class by himself. He has made his Christian faith the foundation of his campaign, and hinted that God directed him to run for the state senate. He opposes raising taxes for even emergency road repair.

Former Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has indicated that Mr. Colbeck was more of a gadfly than someone willing to do the hard work needed to pass legislation. His bid for governor did win the support of Fox TV host Sean Hannity — but he withdrew it when Mr. Colbeck falsely alleged that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Finally, Saginaw physician Jim Hines, 62, is running a largely self-funded, bare-bones campaign centered on the need to fix Michigan’s infrastructure. While he has no political experience, he maintains that no Republican “in office during the Flint water crisis” can win a statewide election this year.

His campaign may seem to be going nowhere — but on that, Democrats hope and Republicans fear he may be right.

Jack Lessenberry is a veteran Michigan journalist and The Blade’s part-time ombudsman.

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