Saturday, August 26, 2006

Michigan Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 26, 2006
73 Days Until Election Day

Michigan Governor

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

In the parlance of sports, the Gubernatorial race of Michigan may be what is referred to as a “see-saw affair.”

Earlier in 2006, first term Democrat Governor Jennifer Granholm held a very wide lead in the polls over her Republican opponent, wealthy businessman Dick DeVos. He was not considered the strongest possible opponent to face the incumbent, and the race was thought of as something that would be a second or third tier contest.

Then, as the economy in Michigan suffered setbacks involving jobs cuts, etc, DeVos, whose politically savvy wife used to be the State Republican Chair, capitalized on what has been regarded as a strong campaign effort, particularly in televised advertisements, proceeded to narrow the gap dramatically until he eventually overtook Granholm, by as much as 8 points in some polls.

Now, Granholm has started to fight back over the airwaves and DeVos appears to be conserving his money a little bit for the stretch run. The polls reflect that Granholm has now rebounded somewhat, working her way into a virtual dead heat or maybe a few points ahead of her opponent.

Had the election been held a month or two ago, DeVos would likely have won. If the election were held today, Granholm would probably win narrowly. What matters though is what will happen 73 days from now and which campaign has the advantage in political environment and campaign resources. The race seems destined to remain a tossup but on both of those counts, DeVos probably has a slight edge.

The economy in Michigan is perceived as being very weak and Granholm’s job approval ratings have suffered and remain low for an incumbent seeking reelection. DeVos is attempting to make the case to voters that his business experience in creating jobs would be right to help Michigan rebound, as the economy had been perceived as a good deal stronger back when a Republican was Governor of the state.

There does not seem to be much evidence that voters dislike Granholm personally or place all the blame of Michigan’s economic woes on her shoulders. President Bush receives poor numbers in Michigan as well, and that is going to be a hurdle for the Republican DeVos to overcome. However, the national economic picture looks far more robust than the case in Michigan. Michiganders seem anxious to bring about a change in direction, and while they may be less than bullish on both the Governor and the President, only one of them will be on the ballot this November. The last time Michigan had a Democrat Governor, the Republican came from behind in the polls late in the cycle, when the local economy was seek as weak, despite another Republican President facing a midterm electorate.

In order to win, Granholm will probably have to run an extremely negative campaign against DeVos, in order to make him appear to be an unacceptable alternative that would manage to make the jobs situation even worse. She will point to his association with the Amway corporation and claim that he is responsible for exporting jobs out of Michigan to places like China. For DeVos to survive, he will have to fight back aggressively and try to show that he is not a heartless rich Republican but a pragmatic leader with a realistic vision for the state.

One factor to keep in mind this election season across the country, but especially in a state like Michigan, is that since 2002 and 2004, when Democrats performed well in the state on Election Day, there has been a shakeup in organized labor. Last year, several unions voted to leave the AFL-CIO and start their own umbrella organization, when they said they would be more interested in workplace issues and less in focusing on electoral politics or being as completely associated with Democrats alone. Such a change from the status quo may not show up in public opinion polls, but with less money and manpower being provided to Democrats in a blue-collar state like Michigan, the effects could be felt, at least in the short term, this November.

This is one race where who performs better in face to face debates may prove to be the deciding factor. Granholm is not a politician to be taken lightly but DeVos has run a strong campaign thus far and appears to have endless personal money to rely on in order to get his message out. You can maybe flip a coin on this race, but the desire for change that Democrats are counting on to help this nationwide this year, could wind up backfiring against a Governor with a low job performance rating who happens to belongs to their party.

DeVos campaign link:

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 5 D, 13 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 13 D, 19 R