Imagine the outright frustration felt by state Attorney General Bill Schuette as he engages tonight in the first Republican debate for the candidates hoping to emerge as our next governor.
A political presence for 30 years, Schuette has served as a state senator, a congressman, director of the state Department of Agriculture and, for the past seven-plus years, as Michigan attorney general. Yet, his gubernatorial campaign remains surprisingly weak.
The newest statewide poll shows that he trails the two leading Democratic contenders for governor, former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and political newcomer Sri Thanedar. A survey by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA found that Schuette is behind Whitmer by a 43-38 percent margin. Thanedar’s edge is nearly identical, 44-38 percent.
Yet, both of these opposition party contenders struggle with obvious political weaknesses.
Some 17 months after Whitmer announced her candidacy she somehow remains an unknown quantity across much of the state. Some 54 percent of voters do not even recognize her name.
As for Thanedar, a successful millionaire entrepreneur who cavalierly entered the political arena last year, he appears as a huckster, given reports that he was initially willing to run as a Republican or a Democrat. He now claims the crown as the “most progressive” candidate in the race and, after spending millions of dollars on mediocre TV ads, has dramatically boosted his name identification with voters.
The most bizarre aspect of this election to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder is that these two leading Dem candidates gain support in general election polls from voters who know nothing about them or have no opinion of them.
The voters don’t know them, but they don’t like “him” – meaning Schuette. The EPIC-MRA survey marks the second consecutive poll in recent months showing Whitmer in the lead over Schuette.
The attorney general and his political consultants must be beside themselves wondering how he ended up in this situation with just three months until the August primary elections.
After all, in his 7 ½ years as AG, Schuette has pushed all the right buttons and trumpeted his successes in countless press releases covering a wide gamut of issues – drug trafficking, human trafficking, consumer protections, business fraud and environmental protection
Heading into tonight’s first GOP debate in Grand Rapids, Schuette faces double-barreled opposition, from his main Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, and from the Michigan Democratic Party. In recent days, Schuette and Calley have sparred over their respective responses to the Flint water crisis, though neither took any immediate action to tackle the city’s drinking water contamination.
Calley stands as the GOP underdog in the race after stumbling badly out of the gate last summer but his campaign recently launched a series of snarky online ads labeling the AG as “Shady Schuette” that seemed to be everywhere. That showed a newfound aggressiveness by Calley to come from behind to win the primary.
It’s still clearly Schuette’s race to lose in August but it’s rather astounding how far from the November finish line he seems to be.