Last weekend I crashed the Democrats’ annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, the party’s traditional tribal reunion and fundraising event. Bill Clinton was the main speaker, and as usual, he delivered a riveting, hour-long tour de force. But what surprised me was the speech made by the designated Democratic candidate for governor, Mark Schauer.
Schauer is usually thought of as a good and decent man who nobody would call a spellbinding speaker. But he gave a strong, punchy and energetic speech in Detroit’s Cobo Hall Saturday night. He naturally attacked Snyder’s record. But Schauer mainly focused on his own program, what he would do if elected. And it was clear what the former congressman’s main themes will be.
Schauer said, “As your next governor, I am going to wake up each and every day fighting for a strong middle class, because the best way to grow a stronger economy is from the bottom up and the middle up, not the top down.”
He promised to repeal the pension tax on seniors, one of the governor’s least popular moves.
Schauer vowed to raise the minimum wage, adding “nobody who works full time should be raising their children in poverty.”
He praised labor, said he would fight for same-sex marriage equality and pleased the crowd when he said “I’ll be the education governor and mean it, because public education is the silver bullet. It’s how we compete for jobs and give kids a chance.’
He also made a promise that while wildly popular with that crowd, was probably unrealistic: “As your next governor,” Schauer said, “I will repeal right to work for less.”
In fact, Republicans are virtually certain to still control the state Senate, and they aren’t about to repeal right to work. But there does seem to be a new energy both in the Schauer campaign and among Democrats; I sensed this talking to party members at all levels, from U.S. Sen. Carl Levin to the college crowd.
On paper, Schauer shouldn’t have much chance.
No Michigan governor has been denied a second term in more than half a century. Snyder is going to have far more money than the Democrats, plus the usual advantages Republicans have in an off-year election.
But this may not be a typical year. A new Lambert, Edwards poll shows Snyder only three points ahead of Schauer statewide.
Seniors are unhappy about the pension tax.
The polls also showed that by a three-to-one margin, voters don’t believe the governor’s claim that he has increased education spending. What is perhaps most fascinating is that most voters still have no real idea who Schauer is.
Now, there are plenty of reasons to think that the odds still favor the incumbent. But it will be interesting to see what happens if Schauer and his running mate, the feisty and charismatic Lisa Brown, manage to connect personally with voters.
My guess is that it may come down to Ronald Reagan’s classic question, “Are you better off now than four years ago?
The governor’s biggest worry may be that even if we are officially in a recovery, for a lot of people, that answer is no.