Michigan Hears a "WHO?"

"If a Republican can't win the Governor's seat this year, they'll never win it."

The speaker was former Michigan guv John Engler, and he fired that salvo last week at a joint conference he attended with another who once sat on the hot seat in Lansing, Jim Blanchard.

Engler may be right, but he may also be crazy, to paraphrase Billy Joel.

But if anyone should know about the unexpectedness of political races, it's Engler.

It was Johnny Engler, State Senate Majority Leader from Mount Pleasant, who went from dark horse to Top Michigan Dog in 1990, edging Blanchard in a race that no one thought would be close, let alone an upset.

The latest man with not a lot of clothes who wishes to be emperor is House Speaker Andy Dillon, the whippersnapper Dem who dares to enter the field without the safety net of the support of organized labor to catch him.

"My preference is not to talk about Mr. Dillon," Norwood Jewell, assistant director for UAW Region 1-C, told the Free Press.

"I can disagree with labor on some things and agree with them on others," Dillon says. "But I can look them in the eye and say I think this is best for the people of this state, and we have to part ways on this one. That doesn't mean I won't be there to fight for them on other issues."

It's cute how naive he is.

But I actually agree with Dillon's take. He speaks with reason, but that doesn't necessarily win elections.

The governor's chair is more up for grabs this fall than in any other year I can remember. And it's not because the field is teeming with dazzling candidates.

But the lack of big names might, in a crazy, mixed up way, be of benefit to the Democrats, who are seen as being vulnerable--especially if any candidate is portrayed as being too close to outgoing governor Jennifer Granholm.

But how can you hitch someone up to a borderline unpopular incumbent if no one knows who that someone is?

Andy Dillon

But back to the unions. They may have lost some clout--hell, they HAVE lost some clout--but their support isn't to be dismissed. Things aren't quite that topsy turvy.

So it will be that the Democrats vying for Granholm's soon-to-be-abandoned seat will trip over themselves trying to win those blue collars.

Blanchard said something intriguing. He usually does.

He said a shorter primary season---and it doesn't get much shorter than this year's, with August but five months away---may be a blessing for Dems because it will: a) cost less; and b) leave candidates less time to attack one another.

OK, so it's not the highest of bars, but it makes sense.

So does all this lack of star power---not that the Republicans have all that much more of it---mean that Engler is right? That this is the GOP's year?

Not necessarily, according to Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney.

"Voters are angry, disillusioned and worried, but I don't think that automatically means an advantage for either party," Gaffney told the Freep.

For the Democrats, the question that will be often asked this spring is going to be "Who's HE?"---but that might not be the kiss of death after all. In fact, it just might prove to be some needed wind for beneath the old wings.


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