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The Democratic primary has turned into a game of Whac-A-Mole

May 2, 2018

Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are each accomplished men. The 63-year-old Thanedar came over here penniless from India, started companies and made fortunes, even though he also has lost one or two. El-Sayed, who at 33 is barely half Thanedar's age, is one of the smartest and most charismatic people I have ever met.

Both are running for the Democratic nomination for governor, in a primary election that is three months away. They are very different in some ways, but they have one thing in common. They aren’t quite ready for the big leagues, and unless I am terribly wrong, both are going to lose the primary, probably pretty badly. If you have a real life and weren’t paying attention to state politics yesterday, here’s what happened:

Thanedar filed an official challenge to El-Sayed’s being on the ballot at all. Turns out the younger man was registered to vote in New York until early 2015, and Michigan law requires you to have been registered in Michigan for at least four years before the election.

El-Sayed was also registered in Michigan during that time, but his registration was about to be canceled when he came back. It isn’t clear when he last voted in New York.

To his credit, the candidate asked for a ruling on his eligibility from Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, but she said that was moot because nobody has challenged his ballot status. Well, now Thanedar has. And Abdul El-Sayed promptly repaid the favor. He has asked the Board of State Canvassers to investigate the petitions Thanedar filed to get on the ballot.

According to El-Sayed’s campaign, Thanedar filed fewer signatures than he claimed, and that the ones he did file had numerous errors. Whether there are enough mistakes to knock him off the ballot is unclear. But it is pretty clear that these men will not be celebrating Labor Day together.

Last week we learned that more than 100 beagles and monkeys were left locked in a laboratory after a firm Thanedar founded went bankrupt. Now it turns out that he opposed their being taken to a sanctuary, and fought unsuccessfully to sell them to be experimented on in another laboratory.

Gretchen Whitmer, meanwhile, cleverly announced that she was supporting El-Sayed’s efforts to stay on the ballot, adding that the race “should be decided by the voters of Michigan.”

There’s little risk for her in that; El-Sayed has less than seven percent support in most polls. Thanedar has been leading her narrowly in some. But Whitmer, a former legislator who has been in politics a long time, surely knows she has everything to gain if El-Sayed and Thanedar want to play Whac-A-Mole with each other. They may not know their history.

Eight years ago, the frontrunners for the Republican nomination were Congressman Pete Hoekstra and Attorney General Mike Cox. They spent much of the campaign venomously attacking each other. Seeing this, a third candidate excused himself from their debates and went off to campaign by himself. His name was Rick Snyder, and he won the primary by a landslide.

On election night, Hoekstra seemed happier that he had gotten more votes than that (expletive deleted) Cox than he was sad that he lost.

Don’t look now, but this could be the week that made Gretchen Whitmer the nominee .

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.