Michigan race shows two parties on different trajectories

Michigan race shows two parties on different trajectories

Democrats and Republicans in Michigan appear set to deliver sharply different verdicts in fights over the direction of their parties on Tuesday when they go to the polls to pick nominees for their next governor.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette is the front-runner ahead of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in the latest race to pit a candidate backed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate GOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Gorbachev calls Trump's withdrawal from arms treaty 'a mistake' MORE against a more traditional Republican.

Trump endorsed Schuette last year, while Calley pulled his endorsement of the president after “Access Hollywood” tape was released weeks before the 2016 election. Calley does have the backing of term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder (R), but polls show Schuette with the lead.

“With the White House and the Supreme Court on the line, Brian Calley deserted Donald Trump, helping Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders thanks Iowa voters for giving momentum to progressive agenda Manchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Arizona newspaper backs Democrat in dead heat Senate race MORE’s campaign,” a narrator says in a Schuette campaign advertisement. “Now President Trump is standing with Bill Schuette.”

An EPIC–MRA poll, conducted for the Detroit Free Press two weeks ago by auto-dial, showed Schuette leading the GOP field with 42 percent of the vote. Calley trailed at 24 percent, and two other candidates hovered right at the double-digit mark.

While Schuette tries to ride the national conservative wave, a similar wave on the liberal wing of the political spectrum looks less likely to succeed.

Several prominent progressives, including Sen. Bernie Saners (I-Vt.) and his group Our Revolution, congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have lined up behind Abdul El-Sayed (D), the former health director for the city of Detroit.

Over the weekend, Sanders campaigned with El-Sayed in front of a crowd of 1,400 in Detroit.

But El-Sayed has struggled to build the kind of grass-roots enthusiasm that propelled Sanders over Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in Michigan. 

He faces former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has backing from most of the state’s core Democratic constituencies such as the United Auto Workers and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan — and a lead in the polls.

The EPIC–MRA survey found Whitmer capturing 49 percent of the vote. El-Sayed clocked in at just 19 percent, behind self-funding businessman Shri Thanedar (D), who took 22 percent even after pouring $10 million into his own race.

While El-Sayed has pitched himself as the champion of "Medicare for all" and a $15 minimum wage, Whitmer has focused on her experience dealing with Snyder to expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage, deals she made when she was the Democratic leader in the state legislature.

“Like a lot of people in Michigan, I was brought up to work hard,” Whitmer says in her latest advertisement. “I was … the first woman elected as a leader in the Michigan Senate, where I took on the tough fights, like expanding Medicaid and increasing the minimum wage.”

The two races illustrate the divergent paths the two parties have taken in the last decade or so, and to some extent the results of primary contests around the country this year.

On one hand, Republicans have increasingly nominated candidates favored by national factions, whether those who appear on Fox News frequently or those who manage to capture Trump’s attention.

Schuette is one of seven gubernatorial candidates Trump has endorsed this year, alongside GOP nominee Brian Kemp in Georgia and Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate Live coverage: Gillum clashes with DeSantis in Florida debate Miami Herald endorses Gillum for governor MORE, who now leads the Republican field in Florida.

On the other, Democrats have largely — but not entirely — chosen candidates who win support from more traditional Democratic constituencies. Democratic gubernatorial nominees like Rep. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisHeritage: Repealing GOP tax law would raise taxes in every district Trump endorses Walker Stapleton in Colorado gubernatorial race #MeToo madness could destroy male college athletes MORE (Colo.), Fred Hubbell (Iowa), Janet Mills (Maine), Steve Sisolak (Nev.) and Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayDems go on offense against GOP lawsuit on pre-existing conditions Trump attacks Democrat in Ohio governor's race Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas MORE (Ohio) have won primaries in which they faced more liberal rivals. 

Even Georgia’s nominee, former state legislator Stacey Abrams (D), built her campaign on the back of support from Democratic-heavy Atlanta before she won endorsements from national figures like Sanders and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBig Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches Sanders thanks Iowa voters for giving momentum to progressive agenda Sanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children MORE (D-Calif.).

A matchup between Whitmer and Schuette, in a traditionally Democratic state that voted for Trump in 2016, is likely to become one of the marquee contests of the midterm elections. An Emerson College poll conducted last month, which also showed both Whitmer and Schuette leading their primaries, hinted at a tough race: Whitmer led Schuette by a 43 percent to 36 percent margin.

Democrats have made states like Michigan a top priority, both because of the role it plays in the electoral college and in the decennial redistricting process, which the next governor will oversee.

History suggests Michiganders will be in the mood to hand control to the outside party. Democrats and Republicans have traded control of the governorship since the 1980s, when Jim Blanchard (D) succeeded William Milliken (R) in the executive mansion.