Poll Shakes Michigan Political Terrain

Posted April 19, 2005 at 6:27pm

A poll released last week pitting Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) against Rep. Candice Miller (R) could entice Miller into next year’s gubernatorial race — and maybe that was the point.

But it could also scramble the re-election contest of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — which, from the Republicans’ perspective, would not be a bad thing either.

Of the two Democratic women up for re-election in 2006, Granholm is considered more vulnerable than Stabenow at this stage. And Miller is seen as one of the strongest potential challengers.

“People continue to expect that at some point the Congresswoman will run for another office, and a lot of people would support her if she ran for governor,” said Nate Bailey, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party.

It would not be the first time that Republicans tried to push her into a 2006 statewide race.

President Bush, among others, wanted the two-term Congresswoman to challenge Stabenow next year. She demurred.

But the former Michigan secretary of state, who was also urged to run for governor in 2002, has not ruled out a gubernatorial bid this time.

“The Congresswoman believes that it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the governor to get re-elected,” said Miller spokesman Scott McFarlane. “She’s not thinking about her next job, she’s thinking about getting people in her district back to work.”

That said, McFarlane admitted that the poll has piqued Miller’s interest and noted that she has not made any statements about her intentions in the governor’s race yet.

“The numbers are interesting, but it’s not our poll,” he said. “We’re focused on the task at hand.”

The Public Opinion Strategy poll showed Miller within 3 points of Granholm. Among 500 likely voters polled March 2-3, Granholm led Miller 46 percent to 43 percent with 11 percent undecided.

The poll had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

A spokesman for the Republican firm said that no one asked the pollsters to test Miller but rather that its team was in the field on another topic and decided to include the matchup.

“That might be in the back of some people’s minds,” Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said about the poll’s potential to draw Miller into the race. “I’m sure there are still some people who would love to see Miller run for governor. There was some of this going on in 2002.”

None of this is to say that the GOP is lacking willing candidates for what could be a close gubernatorial contest.

State Sen. Nancy Cassis (R) and state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R) have already declared their candidacies, but most of the attention is lavished on former Amway chief Dick DeVos.

“We have a very strong field for the governor’s race and Senate race,” Bailey said. “We’re not concerned about the field as is.”

Nonetheless, Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob told The Detroit News recently that if DeVos does not run, he would turn to Miller.

“If she were to run for governor, she would probably beat Granholm, but there’s also a lot of confidence in DeVos,” said David Doyle of Marketing Research Group, a Michigan-based Republican consulting firm. “I haven’t heard of any efforts to try to twist her arm into the race. I’ve talked to a lot of the party leaders lately, and there doesn’t seem to be any push for that. As long as Dick DeVos is out there as a potential candidate, that makes it hard to look at anyone else.”

Rob Minard, personal spokesman for DeVos, said the business executive has been well-received by party activists so far and does not worry that some in the GOP might cast him aside in favor of Miller.

“The sense that we get is that the party is doing its job right now seeking input from the grass roots, and they’re trying to gauge a wide field of candidates,” Minard said. “There’s a dialogue on the options.”

Republicans dismissed the notion that there is an effort behind the scenes to draft Miller for the gubernatorial race and encourage the millionaire DeVos to challenge Stabenow.

Ballenger said he doubts that DeVos would “go for that” anyway, but he did acknowledge that some Republicans may fear a repeat of 2002 if DeVos is the gubernatorial nominee.

Granholm, who was state attorney general at the time, beat then-Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus by just 4 points — 51 percent to 47 percent. There were those in the Republican Party who thought they would have kept the governor’s mansion in GOP hands if Miller had been their candidate.

DeVos, like Posthumus, hails from the western side of the state, Ballenger said.

“I wouldn’t think he would play well in [more populous] southeastern Michigan,” which is Miller’s strong-hold, he said.

Minard said DeVos has already ruled out a Senate bid.

In the meantime, the Rev. Keith Butler of suburban Detroit kicked off his Senate campaign last week and probably would not take kindly to party strategists trying to make way for DeVos.

Doyle, who is serving as a spokesman for Butler’s campaign, said no one is trying to push Butler aside for anyone.

“I think he’s been received very well at his announcements,” Doyle said, noting that local party chairmen and national committeemen traveled with him during his kickoff tour. “There have been very good quotes from various party leaders in the papers” about Butler’s candidacy since he announced, Doyle said.

Several other Republicans, including Jane Abraham, whose husband, Spencer Abraham, lost his seat to Stabenow in 2000, continue to eye the race as well.