A Republican Party power couple with ties to Washington and Michigan stands at odds over next year’s state gubernatorial race, when the GOP will try to secure the governor’s mansion for the sixth time in the last eight election cycles.
Jarrod Agen, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, now a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, will be quietly helping Attorney General Bill Schuette — and not the governor’s lieutenant, Bryan Calley — in the Calley vs. Schuette contest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Meanwhile, Agen’s wife, Bettina Inclan, serves as the spokeswoman for a political group that is expected to play a major role in Snyder’s effort to get Calley elected as the governor’s successor.
However, the split does not portend marital woes. It’s all part of the political intrigue heading into Michigan’s August Republican primary.
Term-limited Snyder has had his differences with Schuette over the past seven years while awarding Calley with a prominent role as lieutenant governor. But Agen’s loyalty to Snyder essentially was superseded in August when he was named Pence’s deputy chief of staff. He had previously served six months as the VP’s communications director.
Pence signaled his strong support for the Schuette campaign two weeks ago when the VP’s PAC, the Great American Committee, contributed $6,800 to the AG. President Donald Trump led the way when he endorsed Schuette for governor in September, returning the favor for a Schuette endorsement of Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Pence connection could be significant, as Schuette can latch onto the vice president, reflecting support for the Trump administration to GOP voters, without getting caught up in day-to-day Trump controversies or tweets.
In contrast, Inclan will be the face of Making Government Accountable, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group that supplies Snyder with the funds to (vaguely) back his favorite 2018 candidates. That, almost surely, will feature “Michigan comeback” promotions benefiting the Calley campaign.
According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the group’s Nov. 30 annual fundraiser collected $100,000 checks from Detroit’s top business leaders, plus an added $10,000 for those receiving a VIP “briefing” from the governor, just two days after Calley officially launched his campaign. In 2016, the governor’s nonprofit “voter education” organization spent its money mostly in tandem with the campaign donations made by Snyder’s Relentless Positive Action PAC.
As governor of neighboring Indiana, Pence maintained a healthy working relationship with Snyder, but the VP’s PAC is now placing bets on 2018 by contributing, at this early stage, more than $200,000 to key Republican candidates across the country who back the president’s agenda. Calley flip-flopped on supporting Trump in 2016.
Given Michigan’s huge role in delivering the presidency for Trump last year, the state’s Republicans will undoubtedly receive special treatment from numerous national PACs in the coming months.
Schuette is widely viewed as the favorite to win the August Republican primary and enter the 2018 general election as the frontrunner over the Democrats’ eventual nominee.
As for the “power couple” designation for Agen and Inclan, here’s a few details:
Inclan has been tagged as a rising star among GOP staffers for several years, first serving on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and George W. Bush. She has worked on campaign staffs for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, current Fla. Gov. Rick Scott, and has experience in Washington for the National Republican Congressional Committee and the House Republican Policy Committee.
Agen’s duties for Pence include communications, speechwriting, legislative affairs, outreach and policy. His resume under Snyder began with an appointment as communications director in 2014 followed by chief of staff duties in January 2016.
May the best spouse win.