MI-Gov: Who’s In, Who’s Out, Who’s a Maybe

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:

Who’s in:

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.

Who’s out:

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

MI-Gov: Tossup Territory

EPIC-MRA for Detroit News/WXYZ-TV (5/18-21, “people”)


Debbie Stabenow (D): 49

John Cherry (D): 14

Robert Ficano (D): 5

Alma Wheeler Smith (D): 2

George Perles (D): 2

Andy Dillon (D): 1

Don Williamson (D): 1

Undecided: 26

Peter Hoekstra (R): 27

Mike Cox (R): 26

Terri Lynn Land (R): 19

David Brandon (R): 2

Tom George (R): 1

Undecided: 25

(MoE: ±4.9%)


John Cherry (D): 36

Peter Hoekstra (R): 33

John Cherry (D): 36

Mike Cox (R): 35

John Cherry (D): 34

Terri Lynn Land (R): 35

(MoE: ±4%)

The Michigan Governor’s race still looks to be our toughest blue-state gubernatorial retention in 2010. Lt. Gov. John Cherry has the inside track toward the Dem nomination, but he’s polling about even with the three likely GOPers. Probably our best shot here would be for polarizing Rep. Peter Hoekstra to emerge battered from a Republican primary over AG Mike Cox and SoS Terri Lynn Land (by consolidating his base in the conservative western part of the state), letting Cherry narrowly win the general… which is what this poll forecasts happening.

The weirdest thing about this poll is undoubtedly the presence of Sen. Debbie Stabenow. I haven’t heard about her having an iota of interest in jumping into the Governor’s race (although she could do so without danger, as she isn’t up for re-election until 2012). Interestingly, she would crush in both the primary and general if she did have any interest in heading back to Michigan. (In hypothetical generals, Stabenow beats Hoekstra 44-35, Cox 43-35, and Land 44-35. Good news, actually, because those are the same numbers the GOPers put up against Cherry, indicating that the GOP may have a ceiling and the electorate has a Dem lean, but that people who haven’t heard of Cherry yet are reluctant to commit to him.)

Robert Ficano, who polls third in the Dem primary, is the Wayne County Executive; he too hasn’t taken any visible steps toward running. (The poll also looks at general matchups with Ficano; he loses to Hoekstra 35-34, Cox 37-30, and Land 37-30.) Andy Dillon is the term-limited state House Speaker, who has been visibly interested in the Governor’s race; however maybe he’ll take a look at his 1% share and think about moving over to the MI-11 race (which he’s already declined, but, against vulnerable Rep. Thad McCotter, seems likelier to have a happy ending for him).

Results for Cherry are a little better than a poll conducted for Inside Michigan Politics in early March, which had Cherry trailing Cox 41-34 and Land 39-34 (Cherry/Hoekstra wasn’t polled). This earlier poll had Oakland County Exec L. Brooks Patterson winning the GOP primary over Cox, Hoekstra, and Land, 22-17-15-12, but Patterson has since said he won’t run. Maybe Cherry’s visibility has increased in the last few months, but mostly that just seems to be a difference in the composition of the two samples.