Saturday, July 31, 2010

Handicapping Tuesday's GOP Primary

We'll be picking a new Governor in November. It will be a Republican. The question is not who will win, but which Republican will be the winner of this Tuesday's primary.

On the GOP side, you have five candidates running, three of whom are locked in a dead heat. The top three are Ann Arbor venture capitalist Rick Snyder, Rep. Pete Hoekstra from Holland, and Attorney General Mike Cox of Livonia. The other two, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and State Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo are the long shots.

Over on the other side, you have two Democrats, Speaker of the House, Andy Dillon of Redford Township, and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. The race between the two is in flux largely due to the number of undecideds among likely Democratic voters. In January, the Democratic field had more candidates, including the Lt. Governor John Cherry of Clio, and State Representative Alma Wheeler Smith of Salem Township (Ann Arbor). Polls indicate a seesaw battle between Dillon and Bernero.

Cherry was the favorite until he dropped out after realizing 1) he couldn't raise enough money, and 2) had no chance because of his ties to political pariah Jennifer Granholm. If Cherry had won the nomination, all the GOP candidate would have needed to do was refer to the "Granholm-Cherry administration," and his cause was lost. Smith, the most liberal of the Democratic contenders, simply couldn't raise enough money, either. Her catch-22 was that she couldn't be taken seriously as a candidate because she couldn't raise enough money, and because she couldn't raise money, she couldn't make a name for herself.

But the Republicans pose a more interesting race to watch. Snyder has cast himself as the outsider, "the tough nerd." He's positioned himself as slightly more moderate than the other two, Cox and Hoekstra. He favors embryonic stem cell research, has the endorsement of environmental groups and the support of a political scion, former Governor Bill Milliken.

(To be honest, I'm not sure how much weight Milliken's endorsement really carries anyway - he's been out of office since 1982, and his left-of-center record as governor has long since rubbed the dominant conservative wing of his party wrong in the decades since. Besides, how many voters under the age of 40 remember him?)

But he's a neophyte. He has no political experience, in a state where we need more career politicians to address the difficulties this state is facing. Having little experience failed Granholm, whereas it had helped previous Governors Engler, Blanchard, and Milliken.

Hoekstra is a nine-term Congressman whose most impressive credential is that he was the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee up until 2007. He has cast himself as a maverick courting the MEA and public educators with his opposition to No Child Left Behind. While he supports Michigan becoming a "right-to-work" state, he knows that such an issue is too divisive in a labor-friendly state like ours.

I don't really know what he would bring to the table as the next Governor. It's not as though he's an outsider. A Lansing outsider, perhaps. But he's still been in politics since the early 1990s; it's not as though he's something new.

Then there's Mike Cox. Here's what Cox has going for him. He's won statewide office twice (in years that favored Democrats). He's got name recognition, and he's the GOP's perennial darling. He's very personable in interviews, and communicates well as I've heard when he's called in to the Drew and Mike Show on WRIF in Detroit.

But there's the other side of Mike Cox. First, his name. If I need to spell it out, reading this becomes pointless.

More curious though, Cox is connected to the mysterious Manoogian Mansion party that allegedly occurred in 2002. (See here, here, here, here, and here.) Cox has long since asserted that there isn't enough evidence to prove a party happened. Critics contend the State Police investigation was hastily concluded, which leads some to extrapolate that Cox may have something to hide. That is, notwithstanding the recent allegation that Cox was at the party, which has been widely dismissed.

I believe there was a party, however, I don't have enough information to make a guess as to whether or not Cox is trying to cover up the party. It could be that Cox simply didn't have enough to go on, and in this cash-strapped state, that's not unreasonable of an AG to decide not to go after a red herring if he thinks it's one.

Moreover, some of his recent campaign tactics have stoked the ire of Republicans across the state. Accusing rival Snyder of sending jobs to China is the exact same thing the Democrats did to Dick DeVos in 2006. It worked. If you want to win your party's nomination, channeling the other party's chairman can go a long way to hurting your chances.

Cox is a former Marine as well. It kind of shows. His bullying tactics of Snyder remind me of obnoxious Marines who forget to leave "Semper Fi" back in the Corps once they've been discharged. He's apparently never cultivated much of a relationship with the Secretary of State, Terri Lynn Land, who's the only other Republican to win statewide office in a state that has trended strongly Democratic in the last decade. Land even went as far as to join Bouchard on his ticket, which apparently backfired, given Bouchard's inability to gain traction.

(I also suspect she's kicking herself for joining the ticket since Rep. Vern Ehlers announced his decision to retire this year. She's a former Kent County Clerk who lives in his district, she wanted to succeed him, and would have been a shoe-in had she known he would leave Congress).

Michael Bouchard was the GOP nominee for the US Senate in 2006. He did poorly against incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow. He does have some name recognition, and he can deliver Oakland County for Republicans, but he's past his political prime. Oakland County is no longer the GOP bastion it once was.

I can sum up Sen. Tom George in one word. Who? To be fair, he has positioned himself as the candidate closest to the center. But George is ranked dead last in every poll. His stance that the state can't afford more tax cuts puts him at odds with Republican Kool-Aid drinkers. If not for constitutionally mandated term limits, I think George could have served the state well for years to come.

Since I've written more than I expected too, I'm going to handicap this November’s sacrificial lambs the Democrats tomorrow.

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