LANSING - The Democratic race to become Michigan's next governor will have only two candidates: Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and House Speaker Andy Dillon.
A third candidate, state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith of Washtenaw County's Salem Township, dropped out of the race yesterday.
The veteran state lawmaker said she didn't want her candidacy to pull away votes from what she termed another "progressive" candidate - widely considered to mean Mr. Bernero.
Mr. Dillon is considered the most moderate or conservative Democrat in the field and he has a business background.
He has gained some union support, but the Michigan AFL-CIO has backed Mr. Bernero, with the union's president saying Mr. Bernero got the nod because he's more in line with traditional Democratic values than Mr. Dillon.
Ms. Smith didn't mention Mr. Bernero or Mr. Dillon by name in her statement, and did not elaborate when contacted by the Associated Press.
"I love Michigan and believe that I can help this state in its time of crisis," Ms. Smith said. "But this race is about more than me. Democrats need to unify behind a candidate and I have come to believe that my continued candidacy would only serve to divide us further. ...
"Like many people," she said, "I share the concern of splitting the progressive vote and ending up with a candidate that does not represent core Democratic values."
Five Republicans are on track to make the August primary ballot. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and state Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo County yesterday filed the petitions needed to run. Attorney General Mike Cox, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder had filed their petitions earlier.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm can't run for a third term because of Michigan's term limits law.
Ms. Smith, 68, was one of the first entrants in the governor's race, launching her campaign last June. Her campaign said it had been "well on a path" to gathering the 15,000 signatures needed to make the primary ballot.
The deadline for filing is today.
Ms. Smith also ran for governor in 2001. She then became former U.S. Rep. David Bonior's running mate until he lost the Democratic 2002 primary to Ms. Granholm.
Ms. Smith can't run for a seat in the Michigan House again because of the state's term limits law, which restricts House members to three two-year terms.
She trailed Mr. Dillon and Mr. Bernero in some early polls and was not expected to generate much fund-raising in comparison to other candidates.
Mr. Bernero said yesterday Michigan Democrats should be "proud" of her and the campaign she ran.
"Alma has always stood up for what's right and never backed down from a fight, no matter how long the odds," Mr. Bernero said.
Mr. Dillon said he respected Ms. Smith's decision: "I respect her decision, wish her well, and look forward to working with her during our remaining time in the legislature," he said in a statement.