Lt. Governor John Cherry had been considered to be a shoo-in for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination until a week ago, when he abruptly ended his bid, citing poor fundraising (and also no doubt motivated by poor general election polling). However, unlike the other dropouts in CO-Gov and CT-Sen, where we had top-tier replacements eagerly waiting in the wings, in Michigan we seem to have a whole bunch of lesser Democrats milling around, bumping into each other and sizing each other up. Let’s take a look at the field:
• Andy Dillon is almost certainly in; he’s formed an exploratory committee in the wake of Cherry’s exit. The termed-out state House speaker may be as close to a front-runner as we have now, although he’d never escaped single-digits when polled in the Democratic primary earlier. It’s unlikely that the centrist Dillon, however, will get much of a warm reception from the state’s liberal base (he’s pro-life) or from organized labor (he’s been the bane of their existence lately), so he’d still likely face serious primary opposition.
• Hansen Clarke is definitely in. He’s a termed-out state Senator from Detroit who previously lost a Detroit mayoral race. He seems to fall more toward the “some dude” end of the spectrum.
• Alma Wheeler Smith, an African-American state Representative from Ypsilanti, is probably the best-positioned challenger who was in the race since before Cherry’s exit. Which isn’t to say that she’s in a good position at all, as she’s made no headway at fundraising, although apparently that’s changing a little with Cherry out and liberals getting alarmed about a Dillon candidacy. Other candidates predating Cherry’s exit who are still in, but not likely to get anywhere, include MSU trustee (and former MSU football coach) George Perles, who has lots of name rec but is in his mid-70s, and Flint mayor Don Williamson.
Who’s a maybe:
• Bart Stupak, the Rep. from the Upper Peninsula, is probably the best-known “maybe,” and today he’s sounding likelier, saying he’s “strongly considering” the race. Stupak is probably best-known these days for his anti-abortion amendment stinking up the House HCR bill, which again could hurt his standing among liberals in the gube primary (although he’s not on the outs with labor as much as Dillon). There’s a sense, though, this may just be a power play to get more ego-stroking within the House (as he also comments that “A divisive primary would not be good…” for him?). He’s been rather loudly underscoring that DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen has been urging him not to run, and saying “It’s a gone district, if I’m not in there.” (Well, maybe not, as it’s R+3 and dominated by the UP, which has a historically pro-labor bent.)
• Virg Bernero, the populist-sounding mayor of Lansing and a former state Senator, was expected to jump into the race soon after Cherry’s demise, but hasn’t made any sort of official statement yet. Interestingly, Bernero had been floating his name and had opened an exploratory committee several weeks before Cherry’s exit, so it’s a puzzle whether Cherry getting out made him less, rather than more, likely to run… or if he’s just making final arrangements before announcing.
• Denise Ilitch has a famous family name (the Ilitch family owns the Tigers and the Red Wings), and is a University of Michigan regent. She was reportedly meeting with the White House yesterday about a potential bid, indicating she’s pretty serious.
• Dan Kildee, the former Genesee County treasurer, has said he’s interested. He has some name rec from being the nephew of long-time MI-05 Rep. Dale Kildee, but may be biting off more than he can chew here.
• John Bowman, the state’s former Treasurer (and current CEO of mlb.com, baseball’s interactive arm), is suddenly saying today that he’s interested, too. I have no idea if anyone remembers who he is.
• Debbie Stabenow, the state’s junior Senator, won’t run. Although if she did, she’d been in a good position to hold the seat (if polling from early last year is to be believed).
• David Bonior, the former House Whip, won’t run. The very pro-labor Bonior (who lost the 2002 Dem gubernatorial primary to Jennifer Granholm) could have appealed to both social conservatives and economic liberals.
• Dennis Archer, who managed to retain a lot of popularity despite having had the unenviable job of Detroit mayor, has confirmed that he won’t run.
• Robert Ficano, the Wayne County Executive and former sheriff, has said he won’t run.
• Gary Peters, current MI-09 Rep. and former Lottery Commissioner, will run for another term in the House.
• John Freeman, a former state Rep. (and current Michigan director for HCAN) who has close relations with organized labor, was running even when Cherry was in the race. He just dropped out, though, despite the potential opening for a firebrand to slip through a Dillon/Stupak battle. He, too, cited weak fundraising.
RaceTracker Wiki: MI-Gov