Michigan race shows two parties on different trajectories

Home / Michigan race shows two parties on different trajectories

Democrats and Republicans in Michigan appear set to deliver sharply different verdicts in fights over the direction of their parties on Tuesday when they go to the polls to pick nominees for their next governor.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette is the front-runner ahead of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in the latest race to pit a candidate backed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE against a more traditional Republican.

Trump endorsed Schuette last year, while Calley pulled his endorsement of the president after “Access Hollywood” tape was released weeks before the 2016 election. Calley does have the backing of term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder (R), but polls show Schuette with the lead.


“With the White House and the Supreme Court on the line, Brian Calley deserted Donald Trump, helping Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s campaign,” a narrator says in a Schuette campaign advertisement. “Now President Trump is standing with Bill Schuette.”

An EPIC–MRA poll, conducted for the Detroit Free Press two weeks ago by auto-dial, showed Schuette leading the GOP field with 42 percent of the vote. Calley trailed at 24 percent, and two other candidates hovered right at the double-digit mark.

While Schuette tries to ride the national conservative wave, a similar wave on the liberal wing of the political spectrum looks less likely to succeed.

Several prominent progressives, including Sen. Bernie Saners (I-Vt.) and his group Our Revolution, congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have lined up behind Abdul El-Sayed (D), the former health director for the city of Detroit.

Over the weekend, Sanders campaigned with El-Sayed in front of a crowd of 1,400 in Detroit.


But El-Sayed has struggled to build the kind of grass-roots enthusiasm that propelled Sanders over Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in Michigan. 

He faces former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has backing from most of the state’s core Democratic constituencies such as the United Auto Workers and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan — and a lead in the polls.

The EPIC–MRA survey found Whitmer capturing 49 percent of the vote. El-Sayed clocked in at just 19 percent, behind self-funding businessman Shri Thanedar (D), who took 22 percent even after pouring $10 million into his own race.

While El-Sayed has pitched himself as the champion of “Medicare for all” and a $15 minimum wage, Whitmer has focused on her experience dealing with Snyder to expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage, deals she made when she was the Democratic leader in the state legislature.

“Like a lot of people in Michigan, I was brought up to work hard,” Whitmer says in her latest advertisement. “I was … the first woman elected as a leader in the Michigan Senate, where I took on the tough fights, like expanding Medicaid and increasing the minimum wage.”

The two races illustrate the divergent paths the two parties have taken in the last decade or so, and to some extent the results of primary contests around the country this year.

On one hand, Republicans have increasingly nominated candidates favored by national factions, whether those who appear on Fox News frequently or those who manage to capture Trump’s attention.

Schuette is one of seven gubernatorial candidates Trump has endorsed this year, alongside GOP nominee Brian Kemp in Georgia and Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisGOP tentatively decides on Jacksonville for site of convention DeSantis pushing to host Republican National Convention in Florida Florida bars and theaters to reopen starting Friday, DeSantis says MORE, who now leads the Republican field in Florida.

On the other, Democrats have largely — but not entirely — chosen candidates who win support from more traditional Democratic constituencies. Democratic gubernatorial nominees like Rep. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisState leaders urge protesters to get tested for coronavirus amid fears of new outbreaks The Hill’s Morning Report – Protesters’ defiance met with calls to listen Overnight Health Care: White House shifts focus from coronavirus | House Democrats seek information on coronavirus vaccine contracts | Governors detail frustrations with Trump over COVID-19 supplies MORE (Colo.), Fred Hubbell (Iowa), Janet Mills (Maine), Steve Sisolak (Nev.) and Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayPoll: Biden, Trump neck and neck in Ohio On The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials ‘looking at’ offering coronavirus bonds Ex-CFPB director urges agency to ‘act immediately’ to help consumers during pandemic MORE (Ohio) have won primaries in which they faced more liberal rivals. 

Even Georgia’s nominee, former state legislator Stacey Abrams (D), built her campaign on the back of support from Democratic-heavy Atlanta before she won endorsements from national figures like Sanders and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.).

A matchup between Whitmer and Schuette, in a traditionally Democratic state that voted for Trump in 2016, is likely to become one of the marquee contests of the midterm elections. An Emerson College poll conducted last month, which also showed both Whitmer and Schuette leading their primaries, hinted at a tough race: Whitmer led Schuette by a 43 percent to 36 percent margin.

Democrats have made states like Michigan a top priority, both because of the role it plays in the electoral college and in the decennial redistricting process, which the next governor will oversee.

History suggests Michiganders will be in the mood to hand control to the outside party. Democrats and Republicans have traded control of the governorship since the 1980s, when Jim Blanchard (D) succeeded William Milliken (R) in the executive mansion. 

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