Andy Dillon, Michigan's Next Governor?
Sunday's formal entry of Andy Dillon, the speaker of Michigan's House of Representatives, into the governor's race, isn't entirely surprising. The conservative Democrat has long been viewed by his party's establishment as their best bet to retain the office of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has struggled in two terms to lead Michigan through a severe economic crisis.
The first challenge for Dillon, a lanky 48-year-old former investment banker, will be to win the confidence of the Democratic masses. To succeed, he must soothe the concerns of unions, a historically crucial Democratic constituency he has angered with proposals to restructure state employees' health insurance plans. He is Catholic and opposes abortion, which may be problematic for liberals in his party. He has reportedly raised at least $1 million in recent weeks. But raising the kind of money necessary for a credible campaign will be tricky in the current financial environment. He lives in a Detroit suburb, but must quickly build a presence beyond the state's largest media market. It's somewhat early to pay serious attention to polls, and the cast of prospective Democratic and Republican candidates is still broad. Nevertheless, so far, the numbers are in Dillon's favor: 17% of respondents in a recent poll said they would vote for Dillon in the Democratic primary, scheduled for August. However, 45% of those respondents said they were essentially undecided about who they will support.
For now, the Republican field is led by several uninspiring candidates, including Michigan's attorney general, Mike Cox, and Mike Bouchard, the sheriff of Oakland County, Mich., a relatively prosperous Detroit suburb. One glimmer of hope for Republicans may be Rick Snyder, a venture capitalist and the former CEO of Gateway, the computer manufacturer. Snyder's popularity is surging, partly because of television ads he bought to run during the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics that build on the idea that the key to Michigan's turnaround is a break from professional politicians. The ads' punch line: “He's One Tough Nerd.”
In many ways, Michigan's governor's race reflects what's at stake for Democrats across the country this year. Nearly 40 states are scheduled to hold gubernatorial races this year, and Democrats hold most of those seats. Michigan is viewed as a toss-up for both major political parties. The stakes are especially high in Michigan, because the next governor will play a key role in the redrawing of legislative districts following the 2010 U.S. Census.