2006-04-15 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

DeVos' Spending Boosts Standing
By George Weeks

"I wouldn't be surprised if it went beyond $100 million."

- Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, speculating on total spending for the 2006 governor's race

In their initial election year jousting, it's the bully pulpit of Governor Jennifer Granholm versus the deep pockets of Republican Dick DeVos.

As Granholm blitzed the state last week (including her third Up North trip of the year, following her 2005 October/ December trips to above and just below the bridge) to tout her economic and education initiatives, DeVos ran the fourth commercial of his whopping $2.3 million TV ad campaign that started February 16.

According to station-by-station buys ferreted out by the non-profit watchdog Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), the unprecedented early spending by DeVos included $178,000 in the Traverse City/Cadillac/Sault Ste Marie market and $66,000 in the western Upper Peninsula.

"What can I say?" Granholm responded when I asked her about the astounding DeVos buy. "It is an astounding figure."

His biggest-ever early buy appears to be money well spent for DeVos, who had been trailing Granholm by double digits in polling last year and the first months of 2006. However, in a March 13 to 17 poll of 600 voters conducted by Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group (MRG) for Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter, Granholm's lead narrowed to 43-41. A virtual dead heat.

DeVos' best showing was a 47-31 lead in the northern Lower Peninsula; Granholm led 50-28 in the Upper Peninsula. But geographical sub-samples have a higher error rate than the statistical 4.1 percent plus or minus margin of the full 600 sample. Furthermore, all early polling is iffy because voters have yet to tune in.

I chatted with Granholm about all of this last week at Traverse City's East Junior High, where she stressed to Nancy Fitzpatrick's seventh grade geography class the importance of taking mathematics and science classes. She told the class of a visit she made last year to a high-tech enterprise in Marquette, where a worker lamented his lack of early classes on math. (In a Trojan TV interview with ninth grader Dayton Stone, she 'fessed up that "I hated math" as a student.)

But back to politics: Any governor's election-year visit to any school is not just about education. After rapping with students, Granholm devoted about the same amount of time to a series of pre-arranged interviews in East Junior High's library with three local TV outlets.

"People aren't paying attention," Granholm said when I asked when she would start her own TV ads. People may not be paying attention to the campaign, but they're aware of Michigan's economic grief that will be a campaign issue.

IMP newsletter said "a staggering 75 percent believe 'things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track' in Michigan." MRG pollster Paul King says that's as bad as it has been in state polling.

But is the answer to Michigan's woes businessman DeVos, former president of Amway/Alticor who is touted in his ads as a turnaround leader?

I thought his best ad was the one that called him "a make-ithappen guy" and said "Grand Rapids has turned around primarily because of people like Dick DeVos."

That's a legitimate pitch, especially considering that in 1991 he organized a Grand Vision committee that built on efforts by people like his father, Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. But it was a stretch for the ad to assert Dick DeVos "has put the energy back in downtown Grand Rapids."

As the Grand Rapids Press headlined atop its front page Friday: "Visionary or Revisionist? Dick DeVos a major player, but some say ad goes too far."

As for the claim on his campaign Web site that "Dick turned Grand Rapids around," his hometown paper reported: "DeVos chuckled and called that 'a little political license.'"

It's not the first or last political license to be played in Campaign 06.

Miffed Lawmakers

Senator Jason Allen (RTraverse City) showed up at Granholm's junior high gig and she noted his presence. Yet Allen joined Representative Howard Walker (R-Traverse City) in a subsequent letter to Granholm "to express our disappointment" that her office failed to officially advise them in advance of her visit that promoted passage of the state's new mathematics and other high school graduation requirements.

They fussed, "We are forced to conclude that you are more interested in political maneuvering as opposed to appropriately sharing in this achievement..."

George Weeks recently retired after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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