2006-08-26 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

DeVos Hits Trifecta With Running Mate Pick
By George Weeks

Apart from capability and compatibility, balance is the most important electoral factor for a gubernatorial nominee to consider in selecting a running mate.

Geography was a balancing factor when Governor Bill Milliken of Traverse City picked former Detroit councilman Jim Brickley, an ex-FBI agent, as his running mate in 1970.

Gender was a factor when ex-U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths of Macomb County helped U.S. Representative Jim Blanchard of Oakland County get elected governor in 1982. She became Michigan's first elected female lieutenant governor.

Gender also was a factor when Senate Majority Leader John Engler of Beal City picked Senator Connie Binsfeld of Maple City and Munising as his running mate in 1990 (after Blanchard had dumped Griffiths and put another woman on his ticket for an unsuccessful bid for a third term).

In her successful 2002 bid to be Michigan's first female governor, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm of Northville selected Senate Minority Leader John Cherry of Clio, who brought legislative savvy to the ticket.

Now comes Grand Rapidsarea businessman Dick DeVos with selection of Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson, an ex-teacher, former county commissioner, and 1999-2004 state representative who is widely viewed as a solid choice for No. 2 on the GOP ticket.

That's not a view shared by Democratic State Chairman Mark Brewer, who said: "The DeVos-Johnson ticket is a perfect match of two extremists."

As a balancing act, selection of Johnson was a trifecta: Gender, geography, and governmental experience.

It was a given that DeVos would pick a woman, probably from southeast Michigan to balance DeVos' western roots. Senator Nancy Cassis of Novi, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and once a contender for the nomination that DeVos won, had been mentioned.

Oakland County's Cassis has more extensive legislative experience than Johnson, but DeVos was impressed with Johnson's countywide showing in 2004, when she knocked off an incumbent clerk by 12 percentage points and outpolled President George W. Bush by four points in a big county that has not been voting as Republican as it did.

Johnson was indeed a solid pick. But no running mate on a state or national ticket carries the day.

Northern Trails

As they launched their general election campaigns, Senator Debbie Stabenow and challenger Mike Bouchard, winner of the August 8 Republican primary, last week did what smart statewide candidates have done for decades: go to the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba.

Stabenow, after announcing her reelection bid and running her first TV ad ("Times are tough in Michigan - but so are we. ...we've got a great future here in Michigan and I'm fighting for it every day") went to the fair after attending a salute

to veterans. She scheduled numerous appearances early this week from Manistee to Petoskey.

Oakland County Sheriff Bouchard, who also attended a veterans' tribute before the fair, spent much of the week talking about homeland security. A member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, he said Michigan's high profile bridges are "especially vulnerable to terrorist attack."

Not surprisingly, considering DeVos' heavy TV advertising across both peninsulas, he is doing better in polls against Granholm than Bouchard does against Stabenow.

In an August 9 to 15 statewide poll of 600 likely voters, Granholm had a 50-47 lead over DeVos, while Stabenow led Bouchard, 54-42. (Margin of error: plus or minus four percentage points).

The poll, first after Bouchard won the contested GOP primary, had Stabenow in a 52-48 lead in the northern Lower Peninsula; 53-34 above the bridge.

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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