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Posted on Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

Analysis: Michigan Democrats headed for the rocks early on

By AnnArbor.com Staff

Michigan Democrats started 2010 with their main candidate for governor withdrawing from the race, donors feeling the pinch of the poor economy and the drag of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's unpopularity hanging around their necks.

The national mood of voter unrest that swept through many states Tuesday played a large part in the shellacking Democratic candidates took in Michigan, when Republicans swept the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state education board seats while winning control of the state House and a majority on the Michigan Supreme Court.

Even without that sea of unrest, signs that Democrats were headed for the rocks were apparent early on.

Last December, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said Lt. Gov. John Cherry couldn't get elected governor because he hadn't distanced himself enough from Granholm, who at the time had a 70 percent negative job rating.

Although Cherry was the clear Democratic front-runner throughout 2009, Bernero apparently voiced what many party activists were thinking. Cherry withdrew from the race just five days into 2010, saying he hadn't been able to raise the money he needed to run the expensive television ads crucial to his campaign.

That set Democrats scrambling. Prominent Democratic officeholders such as former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak declined to run. Former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee dropped out after failing to get unqualified support from labor unions. Businesswoman and University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch and Major League Baseball executive Robert Bowman, a former state treasurer, said the timing wasn't right.

Bernero, who was largely unknown outside Lansing and had little money, then got into the race, as did House Speaker Andy Dillon. The lawmaker from Wayne County's Redford Township was confident his southeast Michigan base, ties to business groups — and their money — and moderate views would make him the Democratic nominee.

But Dillon's opposition to abortion and clashes with unions over public employee health care led unions to give Bernero their support and campaign donations. Bernero won the Aug. 3 Democratic primary by 18 points, even though he'd never had the money to run a single television ad of his own, relying instead on ads attacking Dillon paid for by the Genesee County Democratic Party.

Virg-Bernero-debate.jpg

Democrat Virg Bernero was largely unknown outside Lansing when he entered the race.

Mandi Wright | Associated Press

Republican venture capitalist Rick Snyder, meanwhile, watched as his four opponents attacked each other and split the party's conservative voters. He was able to draw on enough moderate Republicans, independents and even Democrats to win the GOP nomination.

By early August, Snyder already had run $2.3 million in TV ads touting himself as "one tough nerd," a political outsider who could end the gridlock in Lansing and spur businesses to create more jobs. The multimillionaire businessman donated $6.1 million to his primary campaign, enabling him to keep up a steady succession of ads portraying himself as an upbeat problem-solver.

The Michigan Democratic State Central Committee went after that image with a vengeance in September, unleashing a series of ads that talked about how computer maker Gateway Inc. had sent most of its jobs abroad while Snyder served on its board of directors.

The ads slightly increased Snyder's unfavorability rating. But Bernero had the same problem after the Republican Governors Association ran ads criticizing him with the help of a $5.4 million Michigan Chamber of Commerce donation. While over half of voters had a favorable opinion of Snyder the week before the election, only 35 percent felt that way about the mayor.

Bernero's union backers donated to his campaign and to state party efforts to assist him, mailed out campaign literature, called voters and knocked on doors on his behalf. With the help of the party, Bernero was able to put up nearly as much in TV advertising as Snyder and the governors association, $5 million versus $5.4 million.

But Bernero couldn't match Snyder in fundraising, and the state Democratic Party couldn't raise as much as the state GOP. Between Aug. 23 and Oct. 17, Snyder raised $3.5 million from private donors; Bernero raised only $744,000, while getting $1.1 million in public funds. During the dash from the primary to the general election, Bernero just never had the money to catch up to his better-known rival.

Thumbnail image for Rick-Snyder-debate.jpg

Rick Snyder watched as his opponents in the primary attacked each other and largely stayed out of the fray.

Mandi Wright | Associated Press

Bernero also had to deal with Democratic apathy and a swing by independents toward the GOP. Without Barack Obama on the ballot, Democratic voters who didn't know much about Bernero or the other new faces running for secretary of state, attorney general and the state's high court simply weren't energized.

Around 300,000 fewer Democrats voted Tuesday than voted in the 2006 gubernatorial election, according to political strategist Ed Sarpolus. Only 31 percent of voters in Detroit — reliable Democratic territory — went to the polls, down from 37 percent four years ago. Democratic candidates got their first inkling of how bad Tuesday would be when only 500 people turned out for former President Bill Clinton's Detroit campaign stop with Bernero 10 days before the election.

Democrats might have put up a better showing in the governor's race if they'd faced a more conservative candidate such as Cox or Hoekstra. Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said it was a difficult year to please an angry and volatile electorate, especially when the Democrats were at a financial disadvantage. He said that "an enormous influx of corporate money ... was certainly a factor."

So were the seeds of discontent with Democrats that could be seen as early as January. Now, the party must live with Snyder's 18-point victory and the reversal of so many of its 2008 gains.

EDITOR's NOTE: Kathy Barks Hoffman heads the Lansing AP bureau and has covered Michigan politics since 1986.

Comments

sbbuilder

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 5:14 p.m.

OK, let's look at statewide congressional races: 1st dist: Banishek Repub 2nd dist: Huizenga Repub 3rd dist: Amash Repub 4th dist: Camp Repub 5th dist: Kildee Dem 6th dist: Upton Repub 7th dist: Walberg Repub 8th dist: Rogers Repub 9th dist: Peters Dem 10th dist: Miller Repub 11th dist: McCoter Repub 12th dist: Levin Dem 13th dist: Clarke Dem 14th dist: Conyers Dem 15th dist: Dingell Dem So, nine out of fifteen go to the Repubs. And, as ever, the Dems take Detroit. At least two of those seats are vulnerable to redistricting. That puts the Dems in a real pickle. I would say that looking at the statewide picture reinforces the idea that the Dems took a real drubbing. Re union membership: I respectfully disagree. Unions can't gain a toehold in a single car plant outside Michigan that is run by foreign automakers. Just one example. I think unions have had their day in the sun, and will continue to see their membership decline. We just happen to be in a state where unions grew up. Perhaps we can watch them die in their old age. Given the hair brained schemes being promulgated in Washington, I would say it isn't far fetched to compare them to spousal abuse. I wasn't referring to our City council. Sheesh. Ann Arbor has fought long and hard to earn the title 'People's Republic of...'. However, our next representative we send to Congress may very well be a Republican. It isn't coincidental that Mr Dingell's district is shaped the way it is, conveniently grabbing this little slice of hard core liberalism. Chop off this town, and add it to Jackson, and you may find a very different story.

Speechless

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 12:59 p.m.

Replying to sbbuilder further above: "... in 2002, 1.504 million voted Rebub for governor; in 2006, 1.608 million voted Repub; and in 2010, 1.88 million voted for Snyder...." But the 2010 total for Snyder includes any number of people who tend to vote as centrist Democrats and who chose to split their ticket this time. A valid comparison for recent mid-term (gubernatorial) elections will necessarily include a wide variety of statewide legislative races. "... Dems may want to re-think their relationship with the unions... a falling star.... Union memebership continues an incessant decline..." The causes for union decline can largely be found in our corporate-revised federal labor laws. If we had the same rules governing labor organizing and activity as, say, Sweden, rest assured that union membership in the private sector would be vastly larger. Our standard of living would thereby improve. "... If someone came into your house and offered to beat your wife, you would say 'no'...." That's a fascinating metaphor to apply to Democratic proposals, such as the Rebekah Warren-supported legislation seeking to constitutionally prevent oil drilling along Michigan's lakeshores. Environmentalism is wife beating? "... redistricting will come into focus once the house is seated.... I think this will change the face of Michigan politics for a long time to come.... By 1981, Ann Arbor's Republicans regained full dominance of the city council after losing control for most of the previous decade, as a side effect of antiwar activism. They subsequently redistricted the city's wards to ensure GOP majorities for 'as far into the future as the eye could see.' But in under a decade, changing demographics caused that plan to blow up in their faces.

LBH

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

It is so convenient to blame the governor for everything. Explain how the governor could have saved GM from shooting itself in the head, repeatedly, until it was so completely lobotomized that it was put on life support? Also please explain how the governor could have kept manufacturing jobs here when it is much cheaper to send them out of Michigan, or even out of the country. She resisted the push from Republicans to make this state cheap and easy because some of us know that if one presents themselves as cheap and easy, people will take advantage of you, over and over again. Maybe some unskilled workers will find jobs, but they may not be able to drink the water. What was that about offering to beat your wife? Republicans are just offering to beat her later when you aren't home. Fact is she was saddled with the party of 'No', and it sure looked like many times they weren't saying 'no' because it was perceived bad legislation, they were saying 'no' to be obstructionist and better their chances for having even more control. I'm not saying I agree with her on everything, but a whole lot more could have been done to benefit Michigan if Republicans had offered something short of cut taxes and kill regulation. Shame on people for whimpering and staying home. Wahhh, my vote doesn't count. Give me a break. Also shame on the people who wanted to be elected in order to have a platform to shout from. Do your darn job and stop blowing kisses to yourself in the mirror.

Rita

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 9:11 a.m.

Bottom line: Granholm has an extremely low approval rating and Mich has an extremely high unemployment rate. We have crumbling roads and bridges, with less police and fire protection. Status quo is not working, so the people have voted for true change. The unemployed and those in private industry who have seen their benefits cut way back see that those in gov't jobs have not done the belt tightening that everyone else has. Mich no longer has the tax base to support a bloated gov't with Cadillac benefits.

Sam

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 8:16 a.m.

Would ONE Democrat please explain, in detail, when ONE union helped to "create a job" anywhere but within the Union itself. Also, why DO teachers need a union anyway? Whose great idea was that? And can the Repubs finally do away with the MEA?

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 8:09 a.m.

Dem introspection alert! The Michigan voters hammered the Dems this year and they hammered Obama as well. There was little for the GOP to say or do. This is really a time where the Dems in Michigan need to explore why their policies of 6-8 years did nothing to help the build jobs. Eight years is a long time for a Single State Recession. We all knew the Autos were getting hit - from about 1995 - that market share graph was clear as day. The Film tax credit is costing $10 for every $1 collected! Cool cities are populated by the unemployed. Dems attack China trade and yet Michigan exports have actually Grown over 8 years. The Dems must provide answers and solutions to win. Blame does not solve economic problems. The China blame game is old. Blame Bush -who? Perhaps the Unions are too strong - would Dillon have been that bad? Money is very corrupting on both sides - it is putting tremendous power in the hands of a very few. Unions are not helping Michigan - Big Plants are opening in other states but not here. Why is that?

stunhsif

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 8 a.m.

And now the Repub party better get to work at creating jobs and reducing the size of gov't in MI to match the tax base. Get the unions out of gov't would be a good start along with dumping defined pension benefits.

Sam

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 7:58 a.m.

Look at the success of such Democrat strong holds as Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Benton Harbor...the list goes on and on. All cities run by Democrats for years...great job. By the way, Michigan was on the same track. Thanks Jennifer. Now we can get back to sanity. Work hard, earn what you work for, quit living off of everyone else. Thank God everyday for the GOP in Michigan. Oh and Detroit, keep waiting for another handout.

discgolfgeek

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 7:55 a.m.

Herein lies one of the problems with the 2-party system. When 1 party pisses you off, you can only vote the other one in even if you don't particularly like the other party. There was no mandate in this election, just pissed off voters who are watching their way of life slowly go down the tubes and thus taking it out on the party that was currently in charge. If you recall, the same thing happened to the Republicans in 2008.

InsideTheHall

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 6:32 a.m.

The voter rolls have yet to be purged reflecting the flight of people out of the state. To say 300,000 less Democrats just sat at home is flat out wrong. Either they didn't vote, have left the state but remain on the rolls, or they voted Republican. Blaming the poor DEM result on turnout is delusional thinking by DEMS.

Awakened

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 6:24 a.m.

I meant "jobs". Sorry, its early.

Awakened

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 6:22 a.m.

I know four families that were pretty safe Democrat votes that have left Michigan for hobs since 2008.

sbbuilder

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 6:09 p.m.

If someone came into your house, and offered to beat your wife, you would say 'no'. If they then offered to beat your kids, you would again say 'no'. If they then offered to beat you dog, you would yet again say 'no'. Are you being obstuctionist? Of course. Is that a bad thing in this instance? Of course not. Well, the Republicans feel the same way when presented bill after bill that they think would be bad legislation. If being the party of 'No' is how they are to be labelled, then so be it. At some point, the Repubs here in Michigan smelled blood in the water, and knew they only had to hold on and let the Dems fall on their own sword. So, they voted no after no after no. Also, when the Dems are chair of all committees, as all who are in majority are wont; and when they control which legislation is brought to the floor, via the speaker of the house, the Repubs were left playing defense. No wonder they were left voting 'no'. They never were given the opportunity of voting 'yes'. As far as the groundswell of support, in 2002, 1.504 million voted Rebub for governor; in 2006, 1.608 million voted Repub; and in 2010, 1.88 million voted for Snyder. You have to go back to 1998 to find, oddly enough, 1.88 million voting or Engler. Given that our state has lost a good chunk of its population, I'd say that this years' turnout was pretty darn good. At some point the Dems may want to re-think their relationship with the unions. Eventually they may realize that they have hitched their wagon to a falling star. The unions are very powerful yet, but their lock hold on labor is definitely weakening. Union memebership continues an incessant decline. Lastly, redistricting will come into focus once the house is seated next year. I think this will change the face of Michigan politics for a long time to come. It's importance hasn't been revealed yet, but it will come.

Speechless

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 3:26 p.m.

This election post-mortem seems fair enough, as far as it goes. The bottom line here is that the state Republican sweep was driven by the 300,000 Democratic voters who choose to stay home this time around rather than schlep to the polls. Meanwhile, as compared to 2006, Republicans maintained their vote but did not experience a groundswell of new support. Obviously, the state Dems need to better organize and, above all, make a more serious effort to represent the 300,000 who've drifted away and who voted for nobody last week. As a group, they can't expect to inspire, nor win consistently, if their most prominent party strategy is merely to point out that they're not so nasty as the great bulk of their GOP opponents. It brings little joy if one's purpose on election day is to vote against the evil of two lessers. ------------ Prior to this year, Granholm for her part demonstrated little willingness to expend political capital by publicly challenging the Republican leadership in the legislature. She appeared more concerned with her own reelection and with building her résumé in anticipation of a possible future run for federal office or else an appointment to a high court. As a result, the presumed responsibility for the state's lack of initiative was eventually placed on her — instead of on the elected Republicans who very consistently sought to block legislation. From almost day one, she needed to be out on the stump convincing state residents to get behind these proposed changes and to apply public pressure on obstructionist GOP legislators.

heresmine

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 2:17 p.m.

The Dems shot themselves in the foot. Andy Dillon would have been a much better candiate. Was his problem that he was working with the other side too much? That's preferable than having a sweep of all the major offices by the Republicans, as we do now. Just wait until it's time to redistrict and let the whining begin. PS: (RE: previous comment.) who cares about the source unless it's wrong. And if the author is listed anywhere, isn't that enough?

Bonsai

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 1:57 p.m.

for crying out loud annarbor.com, when will you get your attribution straight? why do you continue to confuse readers? byline (where you have trained readers to look for the author of a piece): annarbor.com staff. headline: Associated Press.... end note: Kathy Barks Hoffman... leaving the reader to try to figure out who actually wrote and reported this, but only after (or if) he/she gets to the end. why not put "Kathy Barks Hoffman" after the word "By", and "Associated Press" under that (i.e., where you currently repeat "AnnArbor.com Staff")? Is there some kind of agreement with the AP that you can't? Did "AnnArbor.com staff" have any authorship over this piece other than posting it to your site?