Michigan Candidate May Be Rising Star for Dems

Michigan gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Granholm's spectacular run for office has caught the attention of national political observers. The Democrat holds at least a 12-point lead over her Republican opponent.

Jennifer Granholm

DETROIT (WOMENSENEWS)-After state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm gave her closing remarks in the second and final gubernatorial debate Oct. 15 at Detroit's Cobo Center, the reaction by the some-2,000 audience members was boisterous. Two minutes later, after her opponent, Republican Lt. Governor Dick Posthumus concluded, the applause was, to be polite, sedate.

It's a scene that has played itself out timeand again on the campaign trail this fall. The Michigan governor's race is more than a clash of political ideologies. It is a race between vanilla and Swiss mocha chocolate, between unleaded and super high-test premium, between a pair of old loafers and sequined ballet slippers.

Jennifer Granholm has charisma. “If you don't notice it, it means you're not in the room,” said Michigan Federation of Teachers and School Related Personnel president David Hecker.

The Oct. 17 Washington Post reported that Granholm “has been hailed as the most charismatic campaigner in her party since Bill Clinton.”

And state House floor leader Gilda Jacobs, who has supported Granholm from the early days of the campaign, considers the 43-year-old candidate's stylish delivery the answer to 12 years of Republican rule in Lansing. “She's so smart, so charismatic, so energetic. She is the person who can re-energize our party,” Jacobs said.

Polls Show Granholm Leading Posthumus by 12 Percentage Points

Granholm parlayed those brains, that charisma and that energy into a surprisingly easy Aug. 6 primary victory over two Michigan Democratic heavyweights: former Gov. James Blanchard and U.S. House whip David Bonior. Few doubt that the engaging looks and personality of the former aspiring actress had something to do with her blowout victory.

“She has the ability to captivate a crowd and to really get people motivated,” Hecker said. “That's extremely important. You can have all the great ideas in the world and be the best-intentioned person. You could be someone who would be a fantastic governor. But if you don't have that spark on the campaign trail, you're never going to get to the governor's seat,” he said.

If the polls hold, the governor's seat is exactly where Granholm will end up, becoming the first woman to hold that position in Michigan. An Oct. 20-22 poll of 600 likely voters by the Lansing firm Epic/MRA, showed Granholm leading Posthumus by 51 percent to 37 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. And an Oct. 18 poll of 400 likely voters by The Detroit News, which has endorsed Posthumus, gave Granholm a 12-point lead, 47-35.

Granholm, born in British Columbia and raised in California, attractive enough to be a contestant on “The Dating Game,” apparently has an appealing message as well: Michigan Democrats are fundamentally different from the Republicans who have run the state for the last 12 years under term-limited Gov. John Engler.

“Our Michigan will be a different place because Democrats see a different world,” Granholm said when she accepted her party's nomination. “The choice before Michigan's voters has seldom been more stark.”

Jacobs concured: “There's such a clear choice. Jennifer really represents the future of Michigan. She has fought for women's issues; she has fought for consumer issues; she has a very strong track record on the kinds of things people care about in the state of Michigan.” Hecker added: “The differences between Jennifer Granholm and Dick Posthumus are night and day.”

The differences begin with their political resumes. Granholm is a relative neophyte. She became attorney general in 1998 in her first attempt at political office. Posthumus is the former state Senate majority leader who is viewed as a political insider with more than 20 years in office.

Granholm is pro-choice and favors restrictions on handguns. Posthumus opposes abortion and wants to expand the Michigan law that allows individuals to carry concealed weapons.

Leads with Female, Male, Independent, even Anti-Choice Voters

The EPIC/MRA poll showed across-the-board support for Granholm.

She leads among both women and men. She has the support of one-third of those who oppose reproductive rights for women, despite her pro-choice stand. She got favorable ratings among 55 percent of those polled compared to 40 percent for Posthumus. She leads among independent voters and holds her own in out-state areas that have been traditional Republican strongholds. These are seemingly formidable advantages.

But all is not sweetness and light for Granholm. A major thrust of the Posthumus campaign has been television commercials featuring a memo written by a staff member of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The memo asks for special future considerations for the city in return for support turning out the vote in the city. Posthumus is hoping the commercials generate anti-Detroit sentiments that will swing the out-state vote his way.

For her part, Granholm says she has never seen the memo.

“I am being criticized through hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising for a memo I did not write, did not receive and I don't agree with,” she said.

Granholm Must Convince African Americans to Vote Her into Office

Still, the election will likely turn on whether Detroiters turn out to vote on Nov. 5. Granholm did not fare well in the city in the primary election and Susan Watson, the award-winning columnist for the Michigan Chronicle, the voice of Detroit's African American community, said that Granholm has to show Detroiters she is genuine if she expects voter support in the city.

“Don't trust any politician who can cry on cue, even if she can name all the Teletubbies,” Watson said.

Engler's 1990 upset victory over Blanchard was widely attributed to Blanchard's inability to get the vote out in Detroit. It's a fate that could await Granholm, Watson warned.

“Granholm has a lot of courting to do here in Detroit,” she said. “She has to prove that her concern goes deeper than a megawatt smile and a 30-second sound bite.”

Still, like everyone else, Watson said that the choice between Granholm and Posthumus is clear.

“Engler did his best to nuke practically every program that helped the poor and the underserved,” she said. “Detroiters have to be savvy enough to protect their interests and Granholm is a heck of a lot better for us than the anti-Detroit Engler-clone who is her Republican opponent.”

Tom Schram is co-chair of the National Writers Union of Southeast Michigan.

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