Confused by Michigan's wide-open governor's race? Here's a guide

Fourteen months before the first vote is cast in the 2018 race for Michigan governor, 14 candidates have filed and a half-dozen more are weighing their options.

An open seat – Gov. Rick Snyder can’t run again because of term limits – will do that to a race.

“I think it’s going to be competitive. Michigan is a purple state that goes red under the right circumstances,” said political consultant and former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis. “But In no sense is this a lay-up for the Republicans.”

Even after eight years of Republican control of the governor’s office and the conventional wisdom that partisan control of the seat will switch, it’s not a lock for Democrats either, said pollster Ed Sarpolus of Target Insyght.

“Today, it’s 50-50,” he said.

Complicating the race is Republican President Donald Trump, whose job approval ratings have been falling in Michigan since he took office in January, according to an EPIC/MRA poll done for the Free Press late last month, with a disapproval rating at 61% of the 600 people surveyed. While his solid base is sticking with him, Trump’s numbers next year, just as the governor’s race heats up, could provide some clues as to the outcome on Nov. 6, 2018.

“He’ll clearly be a factor, but it’s too early to tell,” Anuzis said.

Last week, at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, a handful of potential gubernatorial candidates worked the business and political leadership crowd, trying to drum up support and future financial help for what is sure to be an expensive slog.

In 2014, between candidates Snyder and Democrat Mark Schauer and outside interest groups, $58.3-million was spent on the race. That's second only to the 2006 campaign between Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican businessman Dick DeVos, at roughly $80 million.

So who’s in, who's thinking about it, and who's out?

Republicans

The GOP got a new name into the mix last week with the entry of Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton, one of the most conservative members of the Legislature. He’s hoping to turn his populist message of returning the government back to the people into a victory over better-known Republicans – Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette – who are expected to get into the race later this year.

He has consistently railed against the Affordable Care Act and the need for people to be able to craft their own health insurance policies with such things as direct primary care.

His main challengers are expected to be Schuette and Calley, both of whom remained coy about their ambitions on Mackinac Island. Calley teased a “big announcement” on the island for weeks which many expected to be his gubernatorial campaign, but he merely said he supports a ballot proposal for a part time Legislature, adding, “There will be plenty of time for the 2018 elections.”

Schuette said, “We need a jobs governor from the Republican Party in 2018,” but he refused to say if he would be that guy.

“I’m not announcing today. My focus is jobs and paychecks and education,” he said on Mackinac. “It’s a good opportunity to meet folks and enhance relationships.”

Other Republicans who have filed paperwork with the Secretary of State are: insurance agent Joseph Derose of Williamston, Grand Rapids businessman Evan Space, obstetrician Dr. Jim Hines of Saginaw, and private investigator Mark McFarlin of Pinconning.

Democrats

While six Democrats have already filed their paperwork to run for office, the field is expected to grow by a few more candidates this year.

Retired Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar filed his paperwork in April, but will hold his official campaign kickoff in Detroit this morning.

The 62-year-old immigrant left his native India when he was 24 and got his PhD in chemistry from the University of Akron. He went to work at the University of Michigan for a few years before buying a manufacturing consulting company in Missouri, which failed during the last recession. After his home was foreclosed, he moved back to Michigan and bought the Avomeen laboratory company in Ann Arbor, in 2010. He sold the company in 2015.

He hasn’t been active in politics, but said, “We’ve done good for our family and now it is time to give back.” After growing up in poverty in India, losing his first wife in 1996 and having to raise his then 4- and 8-year-old sons alone, he said he knows what it’s like to struggle.

“We have a lot of families struggling with poverty,” he said. “I feel for them. I’ve been in their shoes and I will work to improve the quality of life for all Michiganders.”

With little name identification and no campaign experience, Thanedar will face an uphill climb against at least two other candidates who have been traversing the state all year: former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and former director of the Detroit Health Department Abdul El-Sayed.

Whitmer has already raised $1 million for her race and El-Sayed is trying to capitalize on his liberal leanings with supporters of Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

While he acknowledged that the visit to the Mackinac Policy Conference was an important stop for any serious candidate, he said it was an uncomfortable place for him to be.

“I’m 32. I’m Muslim and I’m brown and rooms like this haven’t always been my best friend,” El-Sayed said. “The community here has a lot to offer, but we have to balance it with what everybody else in our state has to offer.”

Ann Arbor attorney Mark Bernstein created quite a buzz on the island for Democrats looking for an alternative Democrat to back. He’s got name recognition from a statewide victory in 2012 for the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents and now serves as the board’s chairman. He also appears prominently in the family law firm’s statewide television advertising.

He had been contemplating backing U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee for governor if the Flint Township Democrat had decided to take a stab at being governor. But when Kildee decided to run for reelection to Congress instead, the possibilities opened up for Bernstein. He he still hasn’t officially entered the race.

“Something that happened to me when I was running for regent capsulizes what this is all about. I asked a group of people, ‘who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican. And this one guy in the back said, ‘why don’t you ask what I am. I’m a pedestrian and I’m sick of getting run over,’” Bernstein recalled. “That man and his family were told to work hard and play by the rules and you’ll be able to make a better life for yourself and that hasn’t happened for most Michigan families. It’s just going backwards.”

On the fringe of the Democratic primary race are Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who said he’s thinking about the governor’s race, but is really leaning toward running for reelection as county executive; and Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who ran against Gov. John Engler in 1998 and lost badly.

Other Democrats who have filed paperwork to run for the office are: retired Xerox executive William Cobbs of Farmington Hills; emergency medical services driver Kentiel White of Southgate; and Justin Giroux of Wayland.

The rest

Two candidates with no party affiliation – Ryan Cox of Clawson and Todd Schleiger of Lake Orion – have filed for the seat along with Green Party candidate Dwaine Reynolds of Middleville.

The filing deadline for gubernatorial candidates is April 24, 2018. The primary election is Aug. 7 while the general election will be Nov. 6, 2018.

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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