When Attorney General Bill Schuette won the August Republican primary for governor by a wide margin, his GOP supporters assumed that he would quickly emerge as the frontrunner over his Democratic opponent, Gretchen Whitmer.
But the roadblocks for his campaign keep popping up faster than a Michigan highway construction zone.
Due to an endorsement process that has become anything but routine, the attorney general finds himself fending off numerous rejections that he never saw coming.
The latest kerfuffle lies within the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, where several businesses have announced they’re renouncing their chamber membership due to its election endorsement of Schuette. If the GOP nominee is having trouble within the west Michigan business community, that represents a headache for Schuette that could, at least temporarily, sidetrack his campaign.
The issue at hand is the AG’s refusal to recognize the LGBT community as a protected group under the Michigan civil rights law. The newest resignation from the chamber comes from Founders Brewing Co., one of the largest independent brewers in Michigan.
Next, Tim Skubick, the dean of the Lansing press corps, first reported this morning that an anti-Schuette Republican group has formed, and it will be urging GOP voters to back Whitmer. The membership includes Mel Larsen, former chair of the Michigan GOP, Jim Haveman, who served in the Engler and Snyder administrations, and prominent Lansing lawyer Richard Mclellan, who served on the Schuette transition team after he was first elected attorney general in 2010.
Of course, these two developments will likely have far less influence on the governor’s race than the shadows hanging over Schuette due to President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Snyder’s decision last month not to endorse his party’s choice to succeed him as the term-limited governor generated national news in political circles. Snyder and Schuette don’t see eye to eye and the governor, almost flippantly, declared: “I’m staying out of politics. I’m governing.” Some subsequent reports indicate that the Schuette campaign’s financial support from the Republican Governors Association is slipping.
As for Trump’s endorsement of Schuette, the totally expected has happened. The AG clung tight to the unpopular president for months to solidify support among the GOP base during the primary season. Now, the gubernatorial nominee is noticeably trying to distance himself from the White House and appeal to a broader general election audience.
According to Bridge Magazine, during the primary a newspaper guest column written by Schuette featured five Trump references and a debate performance against his Republican rivals netted 10 Trump mentions in 60 minutes. But since the Aug. 7 primary election, Schuette’s campaign advertising has never mentioned the president.
In addition, with nearly seven weeks to go before the November election, Schuette’s attempted separation has already generated a big-time flip-flop on the health care issue. Though the AG has joined in several legal fights to strike down Obamacare, which could have dire consequences for those people with pre-existing medical conditions, the candidate has now changed his tune.
In an interview last week, Schuette told the Associated Press that as governor he would not try to eliminate Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, which was a key part of the Obamacare program. That sudden change of positions may be just enough to make independent voters question his veracity, while making hardcore Republicans furious over his new stance.
So, what to make of all this?
Turn the clock back to early 2017 and recall that Whitmer, the former state Senate Minority Leader, spent more than a year labeled as a relatively weak Democratic candidate for governor. Earlier this year, a cabal of influential Democrats tried to recruit a male candidate who could essentially push her aside as the party’s frontrunner.
Now, Whitmer has enjoyed several months with the wind at her back due to the coalescing of her party’s diverse activists, an extraordinarily energetic Dem base that anticipates a “Blue Wave” in November, and an election year that has, in many ways, shaped up as the most successful for female candidates in U.S. history.
Still, if Whitmer wins in November, especially if she posts a double-digit margin of victory, as some polls suggest, I suspect that political analysts will dissect the results for weeks and months. More to the point, I would guess that many Republicans will conclude that the best thing Whitmer had going for her was Schuette.