In race for governor, Schauer is the underdog, but Snyder won't have easy campaign

Jul 29, 2014

Mark Schauer will become the Democratic nominee for governor next week, after Michigan’s statewide primary.

That’s because he has no opposition. He will have all the opposition he can handle in November, however. He cheerfully concedes Governor Rick Snyder will outspend him by millions. Schauer is also attempting to buck history. The last time a Republican governor was defeated in this state was in 1948.

However, when I spent some time with Schauer last week, the former Battle Creek congressman seemed sincerely upbeat and optimistic. One poll shows the two candidates exactly tied.

Others have shown Snyder leading, but usually by no more than the three to four point margin of error. And there is something ominous for the governor in all these polls: None have shown Snyder with the support of fifty or more percent of the voters.

In races involving incumbents, undecided voters tend to drift towards the challengers. Now, there are three months to go yet, and the governor has a lot of advantages. But what if Mark Schauer did win?

What would he do – and how would he govern differently?

Schauer told me that “in terms of style and approach, I will be a very different governor. I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I will use my ceremonial office in the Capitol – not every day, but when the legislature is in session.”  And he added, “I’ll also live in Lansing,” saying that Governor Snyder’s goes home to Ann Arbor most nights.

It’s clear how the two men stand on the issues. Schauer is all about education, and his platform calls for more money for public schools, and helping people afford higher education of all kinds.

He wants to repeal the pension tax on seniors, and end the practice of privatizing food services at the state’s prisons. He seems honestly baffled that the governor has not moved to at least terminate Aramark Correctional Services contract. (Frankly, even some Republicans can’t understand that either.)

Where Schauer seems weakest is on this year’s hot-button topic: The roads. He agrees they need to be fixed. But he was unable to say where the money would come from, other than that he’d look to Washington for help and doesn’t want to raise the gas tax.

Democrats have no chance to win a majority in the state senate, and Republicans may well keep the house too.

Yet if he does win, how could he get what he wants through the legislature? Democrats have no chance to win a majority in the state senate, and Republicans may well keep the house too.

On this, Schauer thinks he has an edge over both Rick Snyder and Jennifer Granholm, neither of whom ever served in the legislature. “I was there for a dozen years in both the house and senate, and was in the minority for ten of those years."

“You learn how to put together coalitions around common interests,” he said. “A coalition to fix the roads might be a very different coalition from one on economic development.'

“But you’ve got to have relationships, and realize their constituents are my constituents too. And I know how to do that.”

I came away thinking that Schauer may still be an underdog. But also that Snyder is not going to have anything like an easy time.  

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