2005-05-20 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

2008 White House Hopefuls Swarming into Michigan
By George Weeks


By George Weeks

As expected, opponents are ratcheting up efforts against reelection of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick this year and Governor Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2006.

What's unusual is all of the recent and planned 2005 Michigan stirrings by a swarm of prospective contenders to replace term-limited President George W. Bush way down the pike in 2008. We're a favored early destination of the White House hopefuls jet set.

Ex-senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, was the scheduled Monday night commencement speaker at Wayne State University. He currently directs the nonpartisan Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity that he founded at the University of North Carolina.

Edwards is a vocal Bush critic, does well in poll match ups with possible GOP presidential nominees, and targets Michigan among his initial efforts to help Democratic legislative candidates raise money.

Edwards recently formed the One America Committee as a "Raising the States" initiative. Not to mention raising his own standing among party activists.

Fund-raising for locals is a standard vehicle for presidential hopefuls to gain visibility and supporters in the early stages of an election cycle. Chits.

Michigan is a prime early target of Arizona Sen. John McCain, winner of Michigan's 2000 Republican presidential primary. On a March trip to West Michigan, he helped raise money for Attorney General Mike Cox, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland and the Kent County GOP. He's scheduled June 6 in Macomb and Oakland counties.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the draw at a $1,000-a-ticket March fundraiser for state senators. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour last week helped raise about $250,000 for Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and $1 million-plus for state House Republicans, whose committee already this year had raised a first quarter record $531,000.

Other early 2005 Michigan visitors who have been mentioned as Republican presidential prospects – however faintly – are Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis expects "a very large contingent" of presidential prospects at the September 23-24 Mackinac Island Leadership Conference, possibly including McCain, Romney, Frist, Brownback, and Virginia Sen. George Allen.

Last Thursday, ex-New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, not a happy camper as Bush's first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was in Ann Arbor to tout the cause of the dwindling band of Republican moderates.

She had a book signing for her provocative “It's My Party Too” and a fundraiser for her political action committee. The PAC's advisory board includes ex-President Gerald R. Ford and ex-Gov. Bill Milliken and vows to help "elect moderate Republican candidates and support centrist efforts across the country."

Asked about presidential expectations of her PAC, Whitman, who frets about the "worrisome trend" of party domination by "social fundamentalists," said she hopes the party will look at McCain and other moderates.

Good luck, ex-Governors Whitman and Milliken. You're bucking the tide. The GOP's middle is fading.

As noted Friday by the New York Times, one moderate Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, calls it "the vanishing center." Maine's junior senator, Susan Collins, another moderate, said these days she often envies "those senators for whom everything is black and white."

George Weeks is the political columnist for The Detroit News and is syndicated by Superior Features.

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