Just a couple of days after the Michigan Republican convention celebrated Bill Schuette as the gubernatorial nominee at the top of the GOP general election ticket, the state Attorney General has unleashed his first salvo at his Democratic opponent, Gretchen Whitmer.
While Schuette’s campaign website seems to be 81 days out of date in its news about the AG’s gubernatorial campaign, new anti-Whitmer online ads fed to mobile devices today apparently signal the path the Republican nominee will take in the coming weeks.
To no one’s surprise, the AG’s opposition research portfolio focuses almost entirely on state taxes and tax breaks that make conservatives’ teeth grind. Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat, served six years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate, including a time as the Senate Democratic Leader. Schuette, a 30-year political veteran from Midland, levels these broadsides at Whitmer:
- Ten years ago, Witmer supported the Granholm administration’s hefty film tax credits, which were designed to attract Hollywood productions to Michigan. Schuette’s new online advertising asserts that this was an attempt to financially benefit “Hollywood elites,” though George Clooney & Co. receive multi-million dollar contracts regardless of a film productions’ shooting location. Former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm promoted the tax break as an effort to boost local jobs, economic activity and Michigan’s nationwide public status. In the end, many critics denounced the film tax credits as a failure and the Legislature eventually eliminated them.
- With the state facing a projected $1.6 billion budget deficit in late 2010 due to the devastating economic effects on Michigan from the nationwide Great Recession, the GOP Legislature was ready to impose a government shutdown. Whitmer embraced a Granholm tax-shift plan that would have traded a small sales tax decrease on product purchases in exchange for a new sales tax on 23 common services. Whitmer was among those Democrats ridiculed for endorsing the “2-penny Jenny” Granholm tax, at two cents per dollar, on services ranging from haircuts to lawn moving. To be clear, the newest Schuette ads falsely claim that the service tax actually went into effect.
- In 2011, Whitmer joined all of her Lansing Democratic colleagues in opposing a bill that would require a legal-resident status check, using the high-tech federal “E-Verify” system in certain cases, before granting welfare benefits to Michigan families.
- The Republicans hit pay dirt recently when a supposed GOP operative spontaneously caught Whitmer in a brief interaction, recorded on a smartphone video, in which she seemingly claims support for the ultraliberal position to eliminate ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. That statement was made before the Aug. 7 Michigan primary election, when she was battling against two left-wing candidates, Shri Thanedar and Abdul El-Sayed. But it could become a troubling aspect for Whitmer in the weeks to come.
Overall, Schuette has tried to portray Whitmer as another Granholm for many, many months, while gaining little traction. In a broader sense, the Schuette campaign seems determined to label Whitmer as an “extreme” liberal candidate who will cripple the state budget with tax-and-spend policies.
Yet, at this early stage in the final election cycle, the AG’s ventures into health care issues surely could emerge as his Achilles heel in the fall campaign.
In his newest online ads, Schuette delves into territory that is ingrained among Republican loyalists, while ignoring independent and Democratic voters. His smartphone ads blast Whitmer for opposing strict work requirements for Medicaid, which is a tricky issue as most Medicaid recipients are seniors, the disabled, children and single moms who cannot afford the extraordinary cost of child care.
Certainly, there is much more to come from both parties’ nominees, but the AG’s first foray might not give anyone but ardent GOP supporters an inflexible compulsion to stick with Schuette through thick and thin in the coming 10 weeks leading up to November.
In an election year that seemingly favors Democrats, and women candidates overall – in Michigan and nationwide – Schuette may have a way to go to erase the perception that Whitmer is a relatively mainstream Democrat and, instead, a Bernie Sanders-style leftist.
At the risk of sounding sexist, it seems obvious to me that an added aspect in the November gubernatorial election is at play. Through many decades, starting with JFK, the looks of a candidate for high office have been indisputably relevant. I’m talking about style over substance, even if it serves as an unfair determination by voters.
I believe perceptions were a factor when Jennifer Granholm won the office of governor in 2002. And I am convinced that Whitmer, an equally attractive female candidate, possesses that advantage heading into November 2018 over Schuette.
It’s rather notable that, in an era when extraordinarily unappealing, candid photos of opponents available online are used routinely by campaigns, the Schuette camp chose this rather mundane photograph of Whitmer (at right) for display in their first online attack ad.