Citing a desire to promote unity among progressives being forced to choose between Virg Bernero and him, Dale Kildee has dropped out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary race.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee announced Friday that he’s dropping out of Michigan’s Democratic governor’s race, setting the stage for a likely bruising primary fight between House Speaker Andy Dillon and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.
"I certainly had hoped to be the candidate to unite the diverse interests that comprise the core of (the) Democratic Party," Kildee said in a statement. "It is now clear that the effort to unite progressive organizations and organized labor around a single candidate will not occur."
Bernero, son of a former General Motors Co. worker and a staunch advocate for autoworkers, has been saying he’ll get the endorsement of the United Auto Workers, a key constituency in the party. The union has not announced its pick.
Kildee, 51, will continue his work as president and CEO of the Center for Community Progress, a new national land use nonprofit organization that has offices in Flint and Washington.
The Democratic race has been in upheaval since early January, when Lt. Gov. John Cherry unexpectedly dropped out, leaving state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith as the only candidate. Bernero, Kildee and Dillon quickly geared up for a run.
With Smith far behind in campaign contributions, Kildee’s withdrawal leaves the contest to Dillon and Bernero. The victor will face the winner of a five-way race for the Republican nomination and possibly an independent, former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.
Bernero is seen as a traditional Democrat with an ability to reach out to blue-collar voters, but he is virtually unknown outside Lansing and has a brash personality that occasionally has led to conflicts with some of his constituents.
Dillon has better name recognition around the state but isn’t trusted by some Democrats because of his inability as House speaker to save state spending important to Democrats and his sponsorship of a plan that would place all public employees’ health care into one system. He opposes abortion and embryonic stem cell research, two stances that could put him at odds with much of the Democratic base.
Kildee had hoped to be seen as more in tune with party values than Dillon and more steady than Bernero. But the unified backing he hoped to lock in didn’t happen.
In his statement, Kildee warned indirectly that it’s likely traditional Democratic voters would have split their votes in a four-way race among him, Bernero and Smith, allowing Dillon to grab the nomination.
"The will of the majority of Democratic primary voters would likely give way to the plurality of a minority of voters and our party’s nominee will go down to defeat in November," he said. "This is unacceptable to me."
Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said last week that he had told his member unions that Kildee was a solid alternative to others in the race. Kildee spent 26 years as either a Genesee County commissioner or treasurer and oversaw many of the congressional campaigns of his uncle, U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, during the past three decades.
"Maybe he doesn’t light the world on fire, but he’s this sort of Steady Eddie guy … the kind of Democrat that Michigan voters traditionally like," Gaffney said. "If you’re really worried about Dillon’s unpredictability and you’re really worried about Virgil, this is your alternative."
That message apparently didn’t resonate with some Democratic activists.
Kildee is the fifth potential Democratic candidate to decide against running.
The others are U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch, Major League Baseball executive Bob Bowman and Michigan State University Trustee George Perles.
State Sen. Hansen Clarke got in the race in January but then dropped out to concentrate on a congressional run.