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Published: 8/10/2002

Granholm is favored for Michigan's top job

Ohioans who are growing tired of the attention paid to the politics of the state on its northern border should sit still and wait another four years - when competitive races like those shaping up in Michigan this fall will spill across Toledo to Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, and the Appalachian foothills.

With Tuesday's Michigan primaries in the history books, campaign insiders on both sides of the aisle say the dynamics of the state's key contest tilt heavily in favor of Democrat Jennifer Granholm and against Republican Dick Posthumus.

They are running to succeed outgoing Michigan Gov. John Engler, a Republican who has held the office for 12 years.

Ms. Granholm, a graduate of the University of California at Berkley and Harvard Law School, has four years in public service as state attorney general. Mr. Posthumus, Michigan's lieutenant governor, has been in public service for more than two decades, serving in the state legislative and executive branches.

The race will likely boil down to two things: personality and substance. Republican Party Chairman Rusty Hills acknowledged that, if voters make their decision on personality, Ms. Granholm will win hands down.

“If it's about rock stars, we lose. If it's about governors, we win, because governors deal with issues,” Mr. Hills said last week.

That's a pretty hopeless assessment, but not without its merit. Consider that today's voters seem less educated about civic issues than those of a generation ago. They seem to focus much more on, well, personality. Score one for Ms. Granholm, an attractive blond with a background that includes California acting lessons.

Mr. Hills is correct that voters will certainly demand a basic level of preparedness of the person they elect governor, but Ms. Granholm has already surpassed that - as demonstrated by her strong primary election performance and her work as attorney general.

Harvard Law on the resume also doesn't hurt. The point is, if she needs to get smarter before the election, she can do that.

It is a tough spot for Mr. Posthumus, who, for the record, is an engaging man with a quick wit, a broad, tireless smile, and a grasp of the challenges that common families face. He is friendly, and those who meet him for the first time leave even a brief conversation feeling he has heard what they had to say.

But it is tough to convey that in a 30-second ad.

At a big “unity breakfast” the morning after the Michigan primary, Democrats gathered to lick their wounds and pledge their allegiance to the party's winners.

Two men appeared out of place: gubernatorial candidate James Blanchard, who stood near the back of the room and declined to speak to the hundreds of party leaders gathered for the event. Others said he had privately promised to support Ms. Granholm.

The other was lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who had nursed an ongoing feud with Ms. Granholm that dates at least to 1998, when he was the Democratic nominee for governor. Mr. Fieger, who is used to being the center of attention, sat quietly with a puzzled look on his face.

Mr. Fieger told a Detroit radio station on Tuesday night that he had spoken to Ms. Granholm, and that their feud had been settled. But the former attorney to suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian still couldn't say anything good about the Granholm campaign. Asked by the radio anchors what he thought about her big primary victory and her lead in the polls over Mr. Posthumus - a softball question that a Granholm supporter would have knocked out of the park - Mr. Fieger had to make it about himself.

“It was certainly a much more expensive campaign than I ran four years ago,” he said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe was the main speaker at the unity breakfast. Or maybe he should be called the main “shouter” - he never took it down below a thousand decibels. Even still, his actions spoke even louder than his words - he brought two $50,000 checks with him. Saying the cash was his way of saying “thank you” for being invited to the breakfast, he gave one to Ms. Granholm for her campaign and another to the state party, causing a man at the back of the room to say: “I've got to ask this guy over to my house!”



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