November 19, 2018

A Primary Primer

By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 4, 2018

An oddly quiet primary season ends Tuesday when 30 percent or so of Michigan voters will head to the polls. Maybe we should take a last look at the candidates, or at least some of them. 

(Michigan is an “open primary” state meaning unaffiliated voters can cast ballots. You will have to choose the ballot of a single party, though.) 

This race started with a whopping 14 candidates wanting to succeed term-limited Rick Snyder. But only six of them have been even slightly visible in northern Michigan so we'll focus on them. 

On the Republican side we have Bill Schuette, Brian Calley, and Jim Hines. The Democrats are offering us Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayad and Shri Thanedar. 

Let's start with the Republicans. 

Current Attorney General Bill Schuette is the favorite. He has a tough-on-crime reputation, wants to stop illegal immigration and make sure able-bodied Medicaid recipients get a job. He's decided Jennifer Granholm is to blame for everything and loves Donald Trump, who has endorsed him.

Lt, Governor Brian Calley wants a constitutional amendment making the legislature part-time. He's going to create jobs by cutting red tape and is also against illegal immigration and Medicaid fraud and loves President Trump.

Dr. Jim Hines, who is not likely to win, has taken the most interesting approach; he's not Schuette or Calley whom he accuses of being career politicians, which they are. He says he's going to bring people together to solve problems. He has not, at least in commercials, declared his undying love for Trump. 

Republican's desperate longing for a connection to the president is hardly unique to Michigan, and it's probably smart politics. The Trump base is a solid core, and it's not yet clear Republicans can win a statewide primary without it.

The Democrat field is a bit less traditional.

Gretchen Whitmer was the first woman to lead her party in the Michigan Senate. She has the most money, the most endorsements including organized labor and the highest name recognition. She's led in every poll since she officially entered the race. She wants to “fix the damn roads.”

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a University of Michigan graduate and Rhodes Scholar, was the Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department when he was just 30. Not surprisingly, he'd like better healthcare and insurance for all and believes he can restore blighted urban areas and the economic grief they cause. He's been endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and would become the first Muslim governor in the country's history.

Shri Thanedar, the most engaging of the the three Democrats, is a serial entrepreneur, having created multiple business and surviving a couple failures only to succeed again. He advocates free community college for all and a single-payer healthcare system based on expanding Medicare. 

Primary election campaigns aren't intended to appeal to all of us; pandering to the base is mandatory. Republicans all become anti-government hard asses ready to crack down on something and reform everything. They want to eliminate all those pesky regulations and let corporate America run wild and free like pronghorns in Montana.

Democrats tend to go the other way, promising an expansion of almost every social program. There will be free stuff everywhere and we'll close corporate tax loopholes and tax the rich to pay for all of it. Various forms of inequality – pay, justice, jobs – will also be fixed by a Democrat.

These days you have to dig deep to discover what any candidate represents because their public face is a rote recitation of a campaign playbook, and their advertising is either an attack piece or nonsense. The quality of these campaigns will do nothing to increase what's likely to be an embarrassingly low voter turnout.

There are a couple of points of interest to which we should pay attention.

First, we'll discover if there is really an insurgency of Democrats on the left sufficiently large and energized they can take down an establishment candidate like Gretchen Whitmer. We have already seen a couple of noteworthy Democrat congressmen and a handful of legislators swept aside by candidates to their left. We've not yet had a real test in a statewide race.

The most likely scenario for Democrats is that Al-Sayed and Thanedar will split any anti-Whitmer sentiment. If either actually wins, we'll know something is afoot.

It will also be interesting to see how much the Republican nominee loves the president after the primary. Trump won the state by less than 12,000 votes and his approval rating here continues to hover around 40 percent. If the Mueller investigation digs up real trouble for the president it will be amusing watching Republicans trying to disentangle themselves from him. 

Whatever your preference, vote. If you don't, the rest of us will be making decisions for you. 



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