---- — WIXOM (AP) — The two men running for governor stuck to familiar themes in their only debate Sunday, with Democrat Virg Bernero accusing Republican Rick Snyder of benefiting financially while his companies laid off American workers and Snyder accusing Bernero of being a career politician flinging lies.
"My opponent has sent hundreds of job overseas," Bernero said. "The workers, they had the option to stand in the unemployment line. What did you sacrifice?"
Snyder, a 52-year-old former Gateway Inc. executive and Ann Arbor venture capitalist, said it was time to look to the future and stop focusing on the negative.
"We need to stop being divisive," he said. "It's time to be inclusive and work together."
Both candidates wore dark suits, white shirts and blue ties. Bernero wore a flag pin on his lapel, while Snyder wore a pink ribbon, showing he supports the fight against breast cancer. Snyder's wife, Sue, is a breast cancer survivor.
A new poll released Sunday showed Snyder with a 20-point lead just three weeks before the Nov. 2 election. Bernero tried to use the debate to narrow the gap by making Snyder look like a businessman who has become personally wealthy while caring little about workers at the companies he has run or invested in. Snyder tried to paint Bernero as a "traditional politician" who won't make the changes necessary to lower Michigan's 13.1 percent unemployment rate or end the political partisanship and divisiveness in Lansing.
Snyder, Bernero and a trio of third-party candidates are running on Nov. 2 to succeed Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who can't run again because of term limits. About 4 percent of voters in the EPIC-MRA poll released Sunday said they planned to vote for a third-party candidate, while 49 percent back Snyder and 29 percent back Bernero. Eighteen percent were undecided.
During the hourlong debate, Bernero brought up the nearly 10,000 Gateway jobs that were shipped abroad while Snyder remained on Gateway's board but after he left the computer maker's management. Bernero also said a new company in which Snyder is an investor, Discera Inc., has set up an office in China and is sharing technology in semiconductors with Chinese companies.
"Engaging China is one thing, and shipping jobs" there is another, said Bernero, 46. "The economic development that Mr. Snyder engages in is primarily for him and his friends."
Snyder's campaign produced a release from Discera President and CEO Bruce Diamond saying the company's China office employs five people, noting that none of those were jobs eliminated in the United States. Snyder first said in the debate that Discera had no China operations, but told reporters afterward a handful of jobs were there.
He defended his concern for workers, saying he has given employees at his venture capital companies a chance to own stock and once picked up half the payroll costs to keep a startup company afloat. That company, HealthMedia, employs about 140 workers.
The two men differed on how foreclosures should be handled in Michigan. Bernero has called for the freeze on foreclosures at three major banks — Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage unit, Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — to be extended to Michigan, even though so few foreclosures go through court here. Snyder said he thought a blanket foreclosure moratorium would only worsen the economic downturn, making it even harder to create jobs. He said banks need to be held accountable for wrongdoing, however.
On the topic of economic development, Bernero said he has a record of working to attract more businesses to the Lansing area, pointing to 6,000 jobs added or retained in the five years he has been mayor.
"I have $500 million in new development for my city, we have cranes in the air," he said.
Snyder said venture capital funds he has invested in startup companies are paying off for Michigan. His campaign said this summer that he has created about 400 jobs in the state and about 1,200 nationally, including at companies such as Discera, which has offices in Ann Arbor and San Jose, Calif.
Both men said they would support civil unions. Bernero, whose gay brother died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of 29, also said he didn't have a problem with gay marriage.
Bernero said he supports abortion rights, and Snyder said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life.
The debate took place at Detroit Public Television's Wixom office without a studio audience. Debate sponsors and media watched on a large screen in a nearby room.
Predictably, Democrats watching the debate said Bernero delivered some telling blows. Republicans said Snyder looked positive while Bernero looked desperate.
Questions were asked by editorial page editors Nolan Finley of The Detroit News and Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press. The Center for Michigan, a nonpartisan group based in Washtenaw County, hosted the debate.
Voters who miss the debate Sunday night will be able to see it on the Internet at thecenterformichigan.net and www.mivote.org.