Nine-term U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak would have a good shot at being the second Michigan governor from the Upper Peninsula if he were this year's Democratic nominee.
But that's such a huge if for the pro-life, pro-gun politician that he said Friday: "I just can't envision myself running for governor. ... My problem is the primary."
He also said he would "find it difficult at this late stage" to enter the race.
But Stupak, in a cell phone interview between appearances in the western U.P., said he would at least "hear out" supporters who have been urging him to run.
Before I talked to Stupak, his press secretary, Michelle Begnoche, said he was "humbled" by speculation about his running and "hopes to have an opportunity within the next several days to talk with voters, party officials and potential candidates to ensure that the strongest field of candidates possible is presented to the voters in the Democratic primary this August."
There's been renewed gubernatorial buzz about Stupak -- and other Democrats on Capitol Hill -- even about Detroit Pistons general manager and ex-guard Joe Dumars -- ever since last week's surprise dropout of Lt. Gov. John Cherry, who was the frontrunner for the nomination despite the albatross of being in the unpopular administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Also going against Cherry was history. Since statehood in 1837, only six lieutenant governors became governors. Just two were actually elected to the office -- Republican William G. Milliken in 1970, only after he had inherited the job in 1969 when Gov. George Romney resigned to join President Richard Nixon's cabinet, and Democrat John B. Swainson, elected in 1960.
Cherry's withdrawal came shortly after Stupak's wife Laurie sent a $250 campaign contribution to him, adding to earlier contributions. Stupak, in a call to Cherry to express regret about the dropout, joked about the untimely contribution.
The New York Times, in a Jan. 7 front-page profile on how Stupak has made abortion a focus of the congressional debate over health care, quoted him on his intra-party battles "because I'm right-to-life." It then had this paragraph:
"He cannot run for governor, he continued, because no one with his stands on guns and abortion can win in Michigan."
Truth is, politicians with those stands can win, and have, in Michigan.
On Friday, Stupak said his comment, made to a Times writer over dinner in Menominee two weeks earlier, referred only to winning a Democratic primary.
An interesting point in the Times came when reporter Jodi Kantor said he "described years of feeling ignored, slighted or marginalized by his party for his anti-abortion views."
"We're members without a party," he said. "Democrats are mad at you, and Republicans don't trust you."
House Speaker Andy Dillon, of Redford Township, who last week formed a gubernatorial campaign committee, also is pro-life on abortion.
Why do I believe that Stupak, in the unlikely event of nomination, could have a good shot at being the only Yooper to be governor other than feisty 1911-12 Gov. Chase S. Osborn, publisher of the Evening News in Sault Ste. Marie and a staunch conservationist who was Michigan's 1895-99 fish and game warden?
He's a former State Police trooper and state representative who has a prominent Capitol Hill role as a subcommittee chairman with oversight leadership on numerous energy, food safety and other issues; he's been a champion on Great Lakes issues; he represents 31 counties, geographically almost half of all Michigan -- which, while sparsely populated, does get him into a range of media markets.
Furthermore, Stupak has been an engaging and indefatigable campaigner in a vast district that is the second largest east of the Mississippi. It's a 490-mile drive from Ironwood in the western U.P. to the outskirts of Bay City. During three days last week, he had town-hall meetings and other activities in Ironwood, Ontonagon and Houghton, and other events in Iron River, Iron Mountain, Bessemer, White Pine, Hancock and L'Anse.
On occasion, Stupak has been hobbled by a knee that he blew out while chasing a suspect when he was a trooper. He has had 14 operations on the knee, the last one in April 2008 to remove debris.
Politically, there's a plus and a minus to Stupak's abortion stand. But his current high-profile role on the national scene helps introduce him to the independents and others who are open to what candidates of either party might have to offer in November.
While Stupak is not likely to run for governor, another northern Michigan congressman, nine-term Rep. Pete Hoekstra, of Holland, the former chairman and now ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is a leading candidate to be the Republican nominee and, like Stupak, was in the national news last week.
On the day that charges were filed for the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit, Hoekstra defended his gubernatorial fundraising letter that criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the incident.
"People are interested in the job you are doing today," Hoekstra told me in a phone interview from his car after he made stops in Manistee and Ludington in the northern part of his district. He bristled at an Associated Press report that he had sidestepped questions Jan. 3 on ABC News' "This Week" when repeatedly asked about the ethics of trying to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign by capitalizing on the event.
In his Dec. 28 fundraising pitch, Hoekstra said, "if you agree that we need a governor who will stand up to the Obama/(House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi effort to weaken our security, please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign."
Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, the former chief of Gateway computers who also seeks the gubernatorial nomination for the seat being vacated by term-limited Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, called the pitch "disappointing" and "Washington- style politics."
It was indeed Beltway politics. But Hoekstra's aggressive stance on national security issues, although not issues in the governor's race, contributes to his pitch that he's a leader.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said last week on the Sean Hannity radio show that reaches the conservative listeners who will be voting in the GOP primary, that Hoekstra "is putting [on] such a good campaign and has gotten such a boost out of" his the Intelligence Committee perch "now with the attempted attack on Detroit that Pete really is becoming a dominant figure in the state."
George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.