Attorney General Bill Schuette, who actually has been running for governor forever, made it official yesterday, at a barbecue in his hometown of Midland. It wasn’t exactly a grass-roots rally; those who went were supposed to donate a minimum of $50 to the campaign.
If you were willing to give $500, you could be designated a “grill master,” and for a thousand dollars, an “on duty” donor. That may have been a slight error in branding; I think being grill master sounds better. But Schuette hasn’t made many errors in this campaign – though, as he himself noted, his party faces an uphill battle.
Michigan voters have been as regular as the clock on my smart phone since term limits took effect: One party holds the governorship for two four-year terms, and then the other party gets a chance. John Engler did get a third term, but other than that, it’s been D to R to D.
And next year should be especially hard for Michigan Republicans. Voters tend to reject the party holding the White House in midterm elections, and Donald Trump is more unpopular than most presidents. Republicans have controlled every branch of state government here for years, and if voters are unhappy, they may pay for it.
Additionally, there is the water poisoning scandal in Flint, for which the Snyder administration and its appointees are entirely to blame. Yet Schuette thinks he can win – and I wouldn’t bet against him, unless Democrats give people a reason to vote for them soon.
Front-runner Gretchen Whitmer has been eager to nail the Republicans for their supposed weaknesses. Her communication director yesterday put out a statement saying that “Bill Schuette has put special interests and his own political gain ahead of people’s lives.”
Well, okay, but apart from vague generalities, I’m still waiting for some concrete examples of what she would do for us. Politically, Bill Schuette is very, very smart. Not that he sounds every note perfectly on key. I wasn’t in Midland for the announcement, which is probably a good thing.
I might not have been able to stop myself from laughing when he proclaimed that “I’m like Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m our only hope,” followed by the ridiculous claim that “I’m not of the established group in Lansing.” Schuette is in fact the ultimate political insider, who was a congressman, director of the Department of Agriculture, an appellate court judge, and a state senator before becoming attorney general.
His only misstep was a run for the U.S. Senate nearly thirty years ago. He lost in a landslide to Carl Levin, but showed he was willing to take one for the party.
Former Attorney General Frank Kelley, another consummate insider, told me that Schuette would move to the right until he had the nomination. Indeed, yesterday Schuette proclaimed that income taxes were too high, and pledged to lower them from 4.25 to 3.9 percent.
That would save the average taxpayer about two or three dollars a week and blow a giant hole in the already stretched state budget.
But there’s no sweeter sound than “tax cut” to Republican ears. Schuette also comes from a moneyed family, and has raised a lot already for this campaign.
Democrats may yet win this race. But no one should think it will be easy.
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.