Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 17, 2013

Northern dynamics in Dem chief race

By George Weeks
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---- — Of the 32 men and women who have chaired Michigan's two major parties since World War II, not one has been from northern Michigan. No Republican chair has been from north of the Grand Rapids area; no Democrat from north of the Flint area.

But there will be northern dynamics on Feb. 23 in Detroit at the state party convention when State Chairman Mark Brewer of Macomb County, who has served since 1995 (including a term as co-chair), longer than any Democratic state chair in the nation, and six terms as national chair of state chairs, is challenged by Lon Johnson of Kalkaska County, originally of Wayne County.

Brewer, frequent traveler UP North, has substantial support here, including the chairs in the 1st, 2nd and 4th congressional districts (not the 3rd as I wrote last week) and an impressive array of county party chairs across the Upper Peninsula and in the northern lower.

Leelanau County is among them. One of its prominent activists, Suttons Bay attorney Dean Robb, who supports Johnson as "full of life, full of ideas," argues that Brewer lined up supporters before Johnson got into the race.

Johnson, who narrowly lost a 2012 challenge of state Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, entered the chairman's race with a blaze. He's endorsed by Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and all Democrats in Michigan's U.S. House delegation, as well as the United Auto Workers and some other labor powers that, like the UAW, previously backed Brewer.

Johnson also has been adding northern endorsements, including former 1st District U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Menominee, and ex-state Rep. Gary McDowell of Rudyard, the 2010 and 2012 party nominee in the district.

Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, after noting Johnson's considerable experience in national politics, (including as deputy finance chairman for the Al Gore campaign in 2000) cited "the prospect of a Johnson run for Congress in the marginal 1st CD now represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls."

Johnson discounted such speculation when asked about it Friday. He obviously assumes he will be party chairman, and vowed someone in a "strong field" of prospects will defeat Republican Benishek next year and have a long run.

Snyder slumps in polls

While polls released last week are troubling for Gov. Rick Snyder, he can take comfort from the wise words of ex-Gov. Jim Blanchard that polls are "like yo-yos," and from Snyder's own experience the past two years that snapshots on favorable/unfavorable ratings and job approval are ever-changing.

The Detroit Free Press said a poll released to it suggests support for Snyder "dropped sharply after he changed course in December and backed the speedy passage of controversial right-to-work legislation."

The poll by EPIC-MRA of Lansing found 61 percent of 600 likely voters surveyed Feb. 5-10 gave Snyder a negative job rating, while 36 percent gave him a positive rating. The firm's previously most recent poll, conducted late November, give Snyder a 51 percent job rating; a negative rating of 48 percent.

Snyder's favorability figures also slumped to 42 percent favorable and 46 unfavorable, from 55 percent favorable and 32 percent unfavorable in November.

The paper reported that EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn "said Snyder's fall from high approval numbers almost entirely can be attributed to the right-to-work issue, which Snyder came out in support in December after saying for nearly two years the issue was too divisive and not on his agenda."

Synder Press Secretary Sara Wurfel said it was not surprising polls would be affected "When you take on big, controversial issues," but "this I just a small snapshot in time."

While I subscribe to the snapshot analogy (and note that two earlier polls from other firms not cited here had conflicting results on the right-to-work impact), I was surprised by one aspect of an early February poll by Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting commissioned by Inside Michigan Politics and reported Feb. 11.

The poll, based on 5,000 robo-calls, cited Snyder as a 48-52 percent 2014 re-election underdog against both well-known Stabenow and relatively unknown ex-lawmaker Mark Schauer of Battle Creek.

That's no surprise regarding two-term Senator Stabenow, who served in both houses of the Michigan Legislature (elected to the House at age 28) and both houses in Congress; made a 1994 bid for the Democratic nomination for governor (opposed by the party establishment) and then ended up as running mate on the losing ticket of Howard Wolpe. She's been a party headliner in the Senate.

What's surprising is the showing, equal to Stabenow's, against Snyder by Schauer, a former one-term 7th District congressman and previously the state Senate Democratic leader. But relatively obscure statewide.

PPC pollster Mark Grebner said: "I would not take these results to show that Snyder is 'vulnerable.' He doesn't seem to be doing as well at this point as you might expect, but it's simply too long before the elections for these figures to be strongly predictive of the final result."

He says of what is likely to be a competitive 2014 race if Snyder, as expected, seeks election, the outcome is "likely to be determined by the public's reaction to Snyder's conduct in office between now and then."

It also depends largely on whether Democrats nominate a stronger nominee than they did the last time.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.