2006-05-20 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Candidates Migrate North in Spring
By George Weeks

Michigan's two top Republican statewide officeholders are stumping for different candidates in what has become an increasingly spirited primary to pick the November 7 challenger of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Last year, Attorney General Mike Cox endorsed the Reverend Keith Butler, a former Detroit councilman, and helped in his announcement tour back when Butler was the early favorite in the GOP establishment.

Two months ago, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land endorsed Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a former state senator and representative who entered the race last November after earlier saying he would not run for health reasons that he says have been resolved. She has been trumpeting him in mailings and at party events.

Land, who scheduled an official trip to the Upper Peninsula this week, also planned to be at some Lincoln Day dinners with Bouchard on his first campaign swing above the bridge. He scheduled political events Wednesday in Escanaba and Watersmeet (with Iron, Gogebic, and Ontonagan county Republicans), Thursday in Houghton and Marquette, and Friday in Sault Ste. Marie.

In this election year, it's not hard for northern Republicans to get downstate GOP officials and candidates as dinner speakers for Lincoln Day - which is any day around this time of year a local party can draw a crowd to honor Abraham Lincoln, who was born in February 1809 and assassinated in April 1865.

Last week, Butler made several such dinners on this third trip to the Upper Peninsula, and on Thursday spoke at the Antrim County Lincoln Day event.

Butler on Great Lakes

On his travels, Butler carries copies of his 2006 book, "Reviving the American Spirit: A Strategy of Hope for the 21st Century." The book, as might be expected from the founding pastor of the 21,000-member Southfield-based Word of Faith International Christian Center that has satellite branches in nine states, is heavy on such topics as "how government can legislate morally," and how faith-based organizations can partner with government to help the needy.

Butler also devotes six of the 209 pages to touting protection of the Great Lakes - the strongest statement I've seen from any Republican candidate for statewide office this year.

He said, "It is imperative to hold the line" against drilling under the Great Lakes. While Butler favors drilling in the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, he said it cannot be as safely done under the Great Lakes.

He writes: "A lakeshore environment is not resilient. (The) amount of retrievable oil that resides under the Great Lakes is relatively small - definitely not worth the risk to the fresh water, to the ecological balance of the region, and to millions of citizens of Great Lakes states."

Butler also vows to support legislation that prevents ballast water from foreign vessels from being discharged directly into the lakes that already are reeling from invasive species, federal rules to stop polluting runoff, and federal action to open the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada to nuclear waste from Michigan and elsewhere.

Latest Polls

Two polls released last week continue to have Governor Jennifer Granholm in a virtual dead heat race with Republican challenger Dick DeVos, but give Stabenow double-digit leads over GOP contenders.

In polls released last month, Granholm was tied or led by just one or two percentage points. Two independent polls of 600 voters released last week give DeVos a one-percent lead - his first lead as a candidate, but well within the margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

A May 1 to May 8 poll by Lansing-based EPIC/MRA had it 46-45 for DeVos. Polling May 1 to May 4 and May 7 to May 9 by Mitchell Research & Communications of East Lansing had it 44-43 for DeVos.

In the EPIC/MRA poll, it was Stabenow 57-29 over Butler, 55-48 over Bouchard, and 57-26 over the Reverend Jerry Zandstra, the third GOP contender, on leave from a Grand Rapids think tank. In its only Senate match up, the Mitchell poll had Stabenow leading Bouchard, 49.5-36.5.

Why just Bouchard? Says pollster Steve Mitchell: "I think he is going to be the nominee."

As it does each month, EPIC/MRA provided results of relatively small geographical sub samples that have a much larger margin of error. Among Michigan's five major media markets, Stabenow had her strongest showing - getting 68 percent of the vote against each GOP candidate - in the Traverse City market (where 34 voters were surveyed in both the Senate and gubernatorial races), which includes the eastern U.P.

Her percentages across the entire Upper Peninsula (16 polled) were 87 against Butler, 76 against Zandstra and 71 percent against Bouchard. She had a

cent against Bouchard. She had a slightly smaller, but still substantial, lead across the northern Lower Peninsula (36 polled).

With a 47-43 lead over DeVos, Granholm did slightly better in the Traverse City media market than she did in April, when she led by one percent. In April, DeVos led by one percent across the northern Lower Peninsula, and by 48-42 in the May poll. Granholm's latest numbers were 65-18 across the U.P., where she trailed DeVos 33-41 in April.

Again, sub samples have bigger margins of error. Both DeVos and Granholm downplay importance of statewide polls, and tiny leads, at this early stage.

But both camps say DeVos' spending on TV ads - about $3 million so far - is having an impact. That is evident by the fact that numerous polls over two months have the race a tossup, in contrast to large leads that Granholm held before the ad blitz.

The encouraging thing is that public awareness of the campaigns is increasing, and the candidates are venturing Up North beyond their downstate urban bases.

George Weeks recently retired after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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