The advertising in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette so far has shown fascinating contrasts.
Schuette has mostly spent his advertising dollars to declare that Whitmer is Jennifer Granholm 2.0. — a scary proposition. Schuette's tactic in the primary season was to attach lieutenant governor Brian Calley to Granholm for having voted for a tax increase while in the state legislature. That tactic evolved into a Calley-Whitmer challenge on the same issue. Now it's down to Whitmer alone.
The names have changed but the argument remains the same. Schuette seems to believe that if you say "Whitmer," "Granholm," and "tax hike" enough in the same ad that people will begin to believe it's all the same thing.
That isn't working. Schuette seems like a man stuck in a time warp with a tired and true playbook for a game that's passed him by. He's banging on about taxes and has followed President Donald Trump down the trail of anti-immigrant rhetoric. I don't know how big an issue immigration is for Michiganders, but I don't think it ranks high on the concerns of most of us. However, it's Trump's issue, and if there's anything to know about Schuette it's that he is a Trump without the showmanship.
Trump endorsed Schuette during the primary season and Schuette is going to ride that endorsement as far as he can take it — for better or for worse. But whenever the attorney general looks home to Michigan it seems all he can see is Granholm.
Schuette can't get his head out of the past and the Republican playbook. He's running against Granholm as though she's been governor these past eight years and not Republican Rick Snyder, and making noise about her tax hike. However, for most Michiganders, Granholm is not an issue.
I don't see any Granholm in Whitmer. She doesn't look like Granholm; she doesn't sound like Granholm; and while her politics are solidly in the Democratic fold, Whitmer delivers with a matter-of-factness that avoids the dramatic hyperbole of today's politics.
The most dramatic of her claims, to fix the damn roads, is a stroke of genius. It doesn't sound hyperbolic. It's real to most folks and it seems simple. Just do it, Whitmer says. The reality is that we have the knowhow and technology to fix the roads, but tightfisted politicians with short-sighted goals will probably keep our roads in a constant state of decay and disrepair. It's the capitalist way. However, if Whitmer wins the election and actually fixes the roads, it will be a great thing.
But I digress. The point is that Schuette is fighting a ghost. His major contentions — that Whitmer is Granholm, and that Trump endorsed him — will not serve Schuette well enough to make him governor. The two women are not interchangeable — that's a Republican kind of calculation on women, and Trump is getting less popular by the day. Schuette may have a few other tricks up his sleeve, but so far that's the thrust of what he's shown.
Whitmer has not fallen into the trap of trying to prove that she is not Granholm. She was in the state legislature for several years and has a track record of her own. She speaks with a steadfastness to her convictions. Whether any of that is real or doable is another issue. But she's running a better campaign than Schuette and people seem to be noticing.
Michigan Republicans are playing the dysfunctional family for public viewing this season. The split between the Gov. Snyder and Schuette camps has been there all along, and Snyder has announced that he is not endorsing any candidate this season. Coming from a sitting governor regarding the sitting attorney general from his own party, that's tantamount to an endorsement for the other side. Now other Republicans are following suit. Last week, a group of establishment Republicans who worked in the Snyder, Engler, and Milliken administrations, along with some business leaders, announced the formation of "Republicans and Independents for Whitmer."
"This is anger at Schuette for stepping up, leading, and making tough decisions even when they are politically difficult," scoffed Michigan Republican Party chairman Ron Weiser in a press release.
Whatever it is, the Republican Party is divided. The division cuts into any enthusiasm party members have for Schuette in the race. The defections leave fewer party members to help the candidate in fundraising, getting out the vote, and other campaign needs. Whatever he is, Schuette is apparently not a great unifier. Maybe Trump can get away with a slash and burn attitude toward his own party but Schuette is going to need some friends.
In the midst of all this, last week after the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce endorsed Schuette, members such as Founders Brewing Co., Donkey Taqueria, the Winchester, West Michigan Caterer, and the Apartment Lounge have announced they would quit the chamber over the endorsement. Their objections relate to concerns about Schuette's history of hostility toward the LGBTQ community.
The Grand Rapids area is a bulwark of Republican politics in Michigan. If things aren't going well for Schuette there, things aren't going well for Schuette, period.
Get out the vote
The GOTV special The Hood Should Vote event takes place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at Bert's Warehouse Theater in Eastern Market. (739 Russell St., Detroit; 313-393-3233; bertsentertainmentcomplex.com.) The free, all ages event features a DJ battle, a rap battle, prizes, and political education.
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