2014-08-09 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

After Spirited Northern Primaries, Lively Statewide Races Loom
By George Weeks

Northern Michigan has seen some highly competitive, expensive, and negative GOP races in the August 5 primary campaigns. Now come what could be lively November 4 general election races for governor and the U.S. Senate.

I have noted high spending on the barrage of attack advertisements in the 37th GOP Senate primary between state Representative Greg MacMaster of Kewadin and Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, and the 4th Congressional District GOP race between state Senator John Moolenaar of Midland and Saginaw businessman Paul Mitchell.

In both races, there also have been endorsement battles involving interest groups and prominent politicians.

In the 37th Senate race, which includes counties on both sides of the bridge, MacMaster’s endorsements include Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes. Schmidt’s include Petoskey Mayor Bill Fraser and longtime former state Senator George McManus of Traverse City.

Especially prominent in the endorsement derby is in the 4th Congressional District, which includes some counties in the southern tier of the northern Lower Peninsula: Current 4th District Representative Dave Camp, who is not seeking a 13th term, and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who was Camp’s predecessor in Congress when the district had a different configuration.

I don’t recall such a highly financed, negative northern Michigan primary congressional campaign as prominent as this year’s 4th District race.

By comparison, it has been a relatively tame GOP primary media combat in the sprawling 1st District, where two-term Representative Dan Benishek of Iron River is challenged by Tea Party-backed Alan Arcand, an Air Force veteran, who has an auto repair business in Iron County and has run some radio ads.

With the primary campaign winding down, polling increasingly reflected a narrowing of the gubernatorial race and fluctuations in the Senate campaign pointing to the general election.

Last year, assorted polls gave Governor Rick Snyder leads of about 10% over Democratic challenger ex one-term-U.S. Representative Mark Schauer of Battle Creek. Polls varied in early months of this year.

At the end of last June, Public Policy Polling had them tied, 40%-40%, and the latest survey by Mitchell Research gave Gov. Snyder a scant 4% lead, 43-39, well down from May and June matchups, and just outside the margin of error; in short, a tossup.

In the race to succeed retiring six-term Senator Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving senator, three-term U.S. Representative Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) has for months had single-digit leads in polls over former Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land of Byron Center.

Although Land’s campaign has had considerable negative press, she has personal wealth and extensive outside group financial support for a substantial general election advertising blitz. Most notable: Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group financed in part by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, that has spent $6 million so far in Michigan.

Rustem Record Hailed

Bill Rustem is one of those low-profile aides who help high-profile politicians succeed. Thanks in large part to his efforts during the reign of 1969-1982 Governor William G. Milliken, and with the help of environmentalists and others, Michigan adopted the state’s highly successful “bottle bill,” establishing the deposit system of recycling bottles and cans.

Milliken credits Rustem for much of his administration’s success on a variety of Great Lakes and other environmental initiatives. Subsequently, after running well-regarded Public Sector Consultants, Rustem became director of strategy for Gov. Snyder. He shepherded, among other things, crafting of Snyder’s many special messages to the Legislature, and was point man on numerous initiatives.

In recognition of Rustem’s extraordinary service, and his retirement from state service, Gov. Snyder arranged a Monday reception in Rustem’s honor at the Governor’s Residence in Lansing.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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