2008-09-06 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Michiganians on Prez Slates Are Few and Failed
By George Weeks

Barack Obama and John McCain each had politicians with Michigan ties, one extremely slight, on their widely trumpeted running mate "short list," which often amounts to little more than a stroke list. Both ended up last week as also-rans.

Michigan native Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and son of ex- Governor George Romney (a failed 1968 presidential hopeful), beat McCain in the 2008 Michigan Republican presidential primary and clearly would have helped McCain here in November.

(Governor Jennifer Granholm, in a CNN interview from last week's Democratic National Convention, snipped of Mitt: "The son is not the father, I can tell you that.")

Democrat Obama's touted short list included Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, daughter of early 1970s Ohio Governor John Gilligan, who had a vacation pad in Leelanau County, where Sebelius spoke to Democrats earlier this month.

Michigan looms as major battleground state. Granholm correctly says, "There is no path to the White House that doesn't go through Michigan."

But Michigan has had scant, and failed, ties to presidential tickets:

• Former territorial Governor Lewis Cass was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1848. He lost to Whig Zachary Taylor, who won when Cass and ex- President Martin Van Buren, running on the Free Soil ticket, split the Democratic vote.

• Owosso-born Thomas E. Dewey was the unsuccessful 1944 GOP nominee against President Franklin D. Roosevelt and against President Harry Truman in 1948.

• Republican Grand Rapids Congressman Gerald Ford was picked in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to replace disgraced Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew, and then in 1974 he became president when the disgraced Nixon resigned. Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Ford in 1976.

Ford was the only president never elected to either the presidency or the vice presidency.

In the late 1950s, there was talk of Democratic Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams as a presidential prospect, but that such talk faded in the wake of Michigan's cash crisis and payless paydays for state workers.

In 1996, Republican Governor John Engler, in advance of the Republican National Convention in San Diego, was reported to be on nominee-inwaiting Bob Dole's short list for the running mate selection that went to Jack Kemp.

As for last week's Obama/McCain selections:

It was no surprise when Sebelius and others said to be finalists lost out to highly credentialed Delaware Senator Joe Biden as Obama's choice.

But it was a huge surprise - a shocker - when McCain picked relatively unknown Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a former small town mayor who was elected governor in 2006 and has an aggressive style that spurred opponents to pick up on the "Sarah Barracuda" nickname she earned in earlier days on the basketball court.

Seventeen U.S. governors have become president. At least one governor has been a major party candidate for president or vice-president in all but seven of the national campaigns since 1788.

But David Gergen, former adviser to presidents of both parties and well-respected commentator on politics, nailed it in calling McCain's tapping of the Alaska governor to be a heartbeat away from "a very large gamble."

Michigan Preview

McCain, in congratulating Obama for his nomination last week, was among those who noted that it was accepted on the 45th anniversary of The Reverend Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.

King first gave that speech two months earlier in Detroit (June 23, 1963). The event was called the Great March on Detroit, organized by the Detroit Council on Human Rights.

George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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