Thursday, August 28, 2014

Race of the Day- Michigan Governor

68 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

In most of the biggest statewide elections in Michigan over the past several cycles, Democrats have had an edge, with the strong support of labor unions. However, as the economy of Michigan continued to free-fall, voters took a chance four years ago and decisively elected a Republican businessman to try to turn the state around. Four years later, as would have been expected, Governor Rick Snyder has made a lot of enemies in the state and is facing a tough reelection campaign. He is pointing to successes in the state though as he asks Michiganders to let him continue the state's "comeback." While it is far from a done deal, the incumbent looks like a modest favorite as the contest heads into Labor Day Weekend.

Snyder, a venture capitalist, had never run for office before in 2010, and while he identified as a conservative, he was considered the most moderate of all GOP candidates running that year to succeed a Democrat. Proclaiming himself "one tough nerd", Snyder was able to win the nomination and use his business credentials and promise to turn the economy of the state around to a nearly 20 point win in November.

Entering the Governor's office, Snyder had quite a job ahead of him, as the state remained mired in a deep recession and with high unemployment. While Republicans controlled the legislature in Lansing, Democrats in state government opposed much of what Snyder tried to implement. His popularity as Governor has ebbed and flowed a bit as he has endured budget battles and as he delivered a struggling blow to labor unions by making Michigan a "Right to Work State." Those unions vowed to defeat Snyder in 2014. He also has presided as Detroit, the state's once thriving city, declared bankruptcy after years of mismanagement. The Governor entered into an agreement with city officials in an attempt to fix the crisis.

While a primary challenge to Snyder never materialized, many Democrats were talked about as potential candidates to take on a Governor that many in that party felt was a fluke victor in 2010. However, only one candidate would step forward, beginning an extended general election campaign. Mark Schauer had served for over a decade in the Michigan legislature, and rose to a leadership position. In 2008, he ousted a Republican incumbent in a GOP leaning district, winning 49 percent of the vote. The Democrat's stint in Washington would be short though as he was wiped away in a 2010 GOP wave by the man he had defeated two years earlier. Typically, a politician who loses a reelection bid to a lower office is not seen as a powerhouse candidate for a higher office in their next race, but Schauer would launch a bid for Governor, and despite not being widely known in the state, was lucky enough to have the field of his party to himself.

As his running-mate, Schauer has selected  Oakland County Clerk and former State Representative Lisa Brown. Republicans have recently filed a complaint against her stating she failed to form a campaign finance committee as required by law. Running alongside Snyder once again is Lt. Governor Brian Calley. He was just 33 years old when he became next in line to the Governorship of his state. This past weekend, he was formally nominated once again by a party convention, after Tea Party activists tried to flex their political muscle by putting up an alternative candidate for Lt. Governor.

The political nature of Michigan is that Schauer should have a chance of being elected Governor. In retrospect, Snyder's landslide 2010 win is quite remarkable. It was easy for him to campaign as an agent for change then, but as the incumbent now, he faces the burden of the expectations people had of him. In some ways, his reelection efforts and campaign are similar to that of Barack Obama in 2010. Polls have consistently shown the general election contest in Michigan to be close, but Snyder has held a lead of at least a few points in just about every poll. He seems to be in better political shape as far as his job approval ratings as well as compared to around two years ago. There was a recent poll in the past few days by EPIC-MRA showing Schauer leading the incumbent by a 45-43 margin. The Governor's campaign has disputed those results. Nonetheless, another poll shows Snyder's lead having slipped from five points to one.

It is very likely that the race for Governor has tightened in Michigan but Schauer is probably still somewhat undefined to many swing voters. Snyder can be expected to put his campaign cash to use defining him negatively. Labor unions and other liberal groups will counter by being highly motivated to oust Snyder, but it might take a very large turnout among African-American and other minority voters in what is expected to be a low turnout midterm election to do so.  The U.S. Senate race is at least now, still considered a tighter race in the state

This is definitely a race worth watching but my sense is that the incumbent has an edge. He will not come anywhere near matching his victory margin from four years ago, but enough voters will probably determine he needs another four years to try to finish the job. A chief executive winning reelection by a smaller margin than an initial victory is still the exception to the rule in politics, but it would also jibe with Obama's 2012 win.

Snyder is not a flashy politician but he has gotten high marks from many in the GOP for his electoral skills and performance as Governor. If he is able to pull off reelection and win twice in blue-leaning Michigan, many on the right may look at him as a model for national success.

Snyder campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 8 D (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 3 Tossup) , 10 R (2 Safe, 2 Likely, 6 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 15 D, 17 R


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