2014-06-14 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Governor, Senate Races Heat Up
By George Weeks

The past two weeks have been the most intense so far in the 2014 campaigns for governor and the U.S. Senate, especially in escalating television ads, in the race to replace retiring six-term Democratic Senator Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving senator.

In the last week of May, there were conflicting polls covering both races, and the four top contenders made pitches at the widely reported 34th annual Mackinac Policy Conference of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

One of the Senate polls, commissioned by the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV, showed third-term U.S. Representative Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) with a 44-38 percentage point lead (with 18% undecided), over Republican Terri Lynn Land of Byron Center, former Secretary of State. Peters had a 14-percentage point advantage among women voters.

Peters’ overall advantage was only 4.3 percentage points in a poll for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV that had 39.6% for Peters, to Land’s 35.3% (23% undecided).

At this early stage in Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s bid for a second term, Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, former state legislator and one-term congressman from Battle Creek, has a name-ID problem and trails in polling, including 10 points behind in The Detroit News and WDIV-TV survey.

Citing the poll on May 27, The Detroit News said that within his own Democratic base, more than one-third of voters from union households, according to pollster Richard Czuba, “Don’t know who Mark Schauer is,” while 41% of Detroit voters have not heard of him, and one-quarter of Detroit voters said they currently would vote for Snyder.

Czuba, president of the Glengariff Group, said: “That’s a big problem for a candidate five months out and your base doesn’t know who you are yet.”

Maybe a current problem, but one that—given how interestgroup money tends to pour into late campaign ads—can be overcome.

Much of the gubernatorial focus last week was on passage in the legislature, with large bipartisan majorities (and a beaming Snyder pictured with GOP and Democratic leaders on front pages of Detroit dailies), of the historic “grand bargain” legislation to send $194.8 million from the state to bankrupt Detroit.

Coupled with the bargain in the nine-bill package is 13 years of oversight of city finances. A good talking point for Snyder.

Non-Detroiters may grumble about bailing out Detroit, but the issue is hardly one that Democrat Schauer could use against Snyder.

While recent media coverage has been good for Republican Snyder, not so for Republican Land, who was popular in state office and leads in fundraising for the Senate race, but was savaged in coverage of her media encounter on Mackinac.

Here is how Jack Lessenberry of Wayne State University and Michigan Radio wrote in Dome magazine June 6 about appearances of Schauer and Land on the Island before the business leaders:

“The Democratic candidate for Governor looked weak and irrelevant, when anybody bothered to notice him at all. And the GOP’s anointed candidate for the Senate’s appearance was such an appalling disaster, state party officials didn’t even attempt to defend her against scathing media criticism.”

A Brian Dickerson column in the Detroit Free Press called Land’s performance a “debacle.” He said she came away from her “inauspicious” encounter with reporters “looking like a shipwreck survivor rescued after a terrifying night at sea.”

All Capitol correspondents on the weekly Public TV “Off the Record” show voiced criticism. As host Tim Skubick noted, it was “an uncomfortable moment” for Land.

Camp Honored

Over the decades, northern Michigan has had prominent members of the U.S. House, including Republican Victor Knox of Sault Ste. Marie, former House speaker in Lansing; Republican Robert Griffin of Traverse City, later prominent in the U.S. Senate, and Democrat Bart Stupak of Menominee, who had a pivotal role in the health care debate.

Twelve-term 4th District U.S. Representative Dave Camp (RMidland), who is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and decided not to run again, was just selected by The Detroit News as one of its “Michiganians of the Year” for his efforts to reform the complicated tax code into a simpler, fairer system.

Camp, deservedly, gets kudos from both parties.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is distributed by Superior Features.

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