Michigan Politics: Post-Primary Edition

The results of Michigan’s August primary are in, and the situation is … interesting.


The results from the AP:

Republican primary
5,715 of 5,732 precincts – 99 percent

Rick Snyder 379,245 – 36 percent ¶
Pete Hoekstra 278,584 – 27 percent ¶
Mike Cox 238,858 – 23 percent ¶
Mike Bouchard 126,807 – 12 percent ¶
Tom George 16,911 – 2 percent ¶

For the governor’s race, businessman and political neophyte Rick Snyder handily trounced the rest of the pack. Snyder’s candidacy is a curious one: A self-described “one tough nerd,” he was the president and COO of Gateway Computers and enjoys an admirable record as a business leader. Arguably, Snyder won because Hoekstra and Cox split the dedicated conservative/establishment vote. Regardless, the nerd gets his chance to pick up the party mantle.

From a purely political perspective, Snyder’s election is thrilling. He is not a hard-right Republican, and this is a good thing. I firmly believe that one of the most significant handicaps for the Michigan GOP is its slavish devotion to its country-club grandees — folks like the DeVos and Yob families, whose pocketbooks ensure compliance but whose social sensibilities are out-of-touch with a state that cares more about economic performance than contrived social mores. The Michigan GOP, like the Kent County GOP, is heavily influenced by the Ada-style country-club elitism that, despite its charms, is simply inconsistent with the culture of a state that remains “Reagan Democrat.” Perhaps Snyder’s candidacy will break open the state party to diverse voices and new faces.

Policy-wise, Snyder is growing on me. I had been an early Hoekstra supporter, and since I discounted Snyder’s potential, I paid him less heed than I should have. Snyder presents a solid pro-business plan for the state. He advocates policies that advance economic growth and more efficient state governance. You see much less by way of unnecessary grandstanding over touchstone cultural-conservative issues from him, and this is good. With Obama-style progressive Virg Bernero — darling of organized labor — as the Democratic nominee, keeping the argument solidly economic in this climate will likely work to Snyder’s benefit.

I dived a bit deeper into just one of Snyder’s points in his 10-point plan, giving a thorough reading into his healthcare white paper. I must admit — Snyder gets it right. Promoting medical homes for high-risk patients, emphasizing lifestyle modification to reduce the long-term cost of chronic illness, and managing Medicaid reimbursement rates will go a long way to fixing what ails Michigan’s creaky health care system. If Snyder can get MDCH to stop doing stupid things like simultaneously replacing both of its Medicaid eligibility systems with software solutions proven to fail in other states, we might be on to something.

Net result: I can stand up for Rick Snyder.

Congressional Races

CD2: Bill Huizenga barely squeaked out a primary win against Jay Riemersma. This is the seat vacated this cycle by U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who stepped down to run for governor. Although this is a deep-red district, and Huizenga is running as a red-meat Republican, the primary race was surprisingly competitive.

CD3: Justin Amash, a 30-year-old state legislator, took this race with 40 percent of the vote. Amash beat veteran county lawmaker Steve Heacock and state Sen. Bill Hardiman, who took 28 and 26 percent, respectively. The seat is vacant this cycle because U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers is retiring. Amash benefited from the grown-up candidates splitting the serious vote, while the enthusiastic youngsters who listened to the vague promises and ultra-hard-right nostrums from the Amash campaign carried the day. Of course, it helps when the DeVos family bankrolls his federal race just as his parents bankrolled his state race. Among dedicated watchers of West Michigan politics, informal consensus is that Amash is something of a blank slate, like a Manchurian candidate sponsored by the Club for Growth; he is vague on specific policy and remains relatively unpolished, echoing hard-right pieties but lacking in the gravitas to be a major player in Washington. This fall will be fun: Amash will stand against Democrat Pat Miles. Miles, a local lawyer, is a bit more of a practical, middle-of-the-road Dem. In a district long-held by quiet moderates like Ehlers, Paul Henry, and Jerry Ford, it is an open question whether a firebrand conservative with relatively limited experience can persuasively carry the district. Conventional wisdom is that he wins in 2010 but will be vulnerable as his district trends slowly leftward thanks to changing demographics.

CD6: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton beat back a primary challenger, but the margin was surprisingly narrow; he won 57-43 despite his incumbency and absurd spending gap over his competitor.

CD7: Former U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg gets a rematch against the Democrat who displaced him in 2008, current U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer.


The 2010 election cycle will be one for the history books — the spotlight will be on Congressional races, where the results will be largely viewed as a referendum on the Obama presidency and the stewardship of the Pelosi/Reid Congress. Pundits will therefore look to various competitive House and Senate races to the exclusion of most other campaigns — even to governorships, which are crucial this cycle because of decennial redistricting.

If the election were held today, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball suggests the GOP picks up 7 Senate seats, 32 House seats, and 6-7 governorships.

However, the real question for the GOP isn’t whether the House or Senate will be retaken or how many governorships it possesses. Rather, the party must focus on its message and its candidates. For every solid conservative with good credentials and a coherent program, there are candidates who have won primary challenges based solely on a populist message. These candidates may not be the best choice for the job — see “Amash,” above — but they won either because better candidates split the serious vote, or because voter anger propelled the “fresh voice” to victory.

For West Michigan, the election season will be competitive even though the certain races are foregone conclusions. We will see Huizenga and Amash in Congress, most likely. And barring poor performance or suprises this autumn, Rick Snyder will probably move into the governor’s mansion.

So yes, let’s focus on the elections. But the elections are going to change our political culture in ways it hasn’t been touched in a very long time, and this is the part of the equation that is the most interesting of all.

Let the election season begin!

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