Democratic gubernatorial candidates continue to run… for the hills

Very few Democrats seem interested in running for governor in the wake of Jennifer Granholm’s reign.

First, the assumed frontrunner John Cherry announced he was out, just weeks after saying he’d be proud of running on Granholm’s record. Then Dennis Archer, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Hanson Clarke and Bart Stupak.

Now, the wildcard, Denise Ilitch has announced she won’t run.

If State Rep. Andy Dillon decides he’s running, his competition appears to be only Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith and Lansing mayor Virg Bernero, two candidates with very little statewide profile. (On second thought, that might not be a bad thing for them).

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Stupak, Out

First it was John Cherry. Then it was Hansen Clark. Now, Bart Stupak wants no part of a gubernatorial run.

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak said Tuesday he won’t seek the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor this year and instead will run for re-election to Congress, where he holds powerful committee assignments and has been a significant voice in the health care debate.

"It is difficult for me to commit to pursuing a statewide gubernatorial campaign at this critical time," the nine-term congressman from Menominee, Mich., said in a written statement. "The compressed time frame and fundraising requirements necessary to secure the Democratic nomination for governor would be very difficult for me to achieve without sacrificing some of my responsibilities in Washington, D.C."

Lt. Gov. John Cherry, the presumptive Democratic front-runner, withdrew his name earlier this month, opening up the race and drawing the attention of Democrats such as Stupak, state House Speaker Andy Dillon, businesswoman and University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee and former state treasurer Robert Bowman.

But Stupak said Tuesday he believes he "can best serve the people of Michigan in the U.S. Congress."

The 57-year-old sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee and serves as chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The former state trooper and a gun-rights advocate has been deeply involved in negotiations over the federal health care overhaul bill and language restricting how abortions are covered by insurance.

He said he plans to begin circulating nominating petitions within the next week to qualify as a candidate for re-election to the 1st congressional district seat he has held since 1993. Thirty-one counties make up the sprawling 1st District. It contains the entire Upper Peninsula as well as the northern part of the Lower Peninsula and is one of the largest congressional districts in the nation.

Stupak’s decision not to run doesn’t do much to clear up what still is an unsettled field in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm can’t run again because of Michigan’s term limits law, and half a dozen Republicans already are in the race.

So far, state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith is the only Democrat to formally announce that she is running for governor, and her candidacy has not generated much excitement.

Emphasis added.

So it’s Alma Wheeler Smith, maybe Virg Bernero — whose greatest attribute might be that few outside of Lansing knows who he is – or a non-politician like Denise Ilitch. To me, non-politicians are often tough to gauge. The things that make non-politicians exciting possibilities (not a career politician, successful business person, no ties to the current mess, different way of thinking about problems, etc.), also makes them scary (Can they operate when they aren’t the boss?  They can’t fire the legislature for subverting their plans. They have to be able to build consensus with people that can be predisposed to not cooperate.)

Surely someone will rise up and run. The question will be how far.

Another Democratic Candidate Bites The Dust

And yet another Democratic gubernatorial candidate has opted against running this year. This time, it’s a guy who just entered the fray:

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — State Sen. Hansen Clarke of Detroit was the first Democrat to jump in after Lt. Gov. John Cherry withdrew from the Democratic race for governor. But now Clarke is dropping out as well.

Clarke said Friday in a status update on his Facebook page that he won’t be a candidate for governor this year.

A message was left with his campaign office seeking comment.

The complete list of declared gubernatorial candidates in both parties, per the AP:

REPUBLICANS IN THE RACE:

—Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard of Birmingham

—Attorney General Mike Cox of Livonia

—State Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo County’s Texas Township

—U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland

—Venture capitalist Rick Snyder of Ann Arbor

___

DEMOCRATS IN THE RACE:

State Sen. Hansen Clarke of Detroit

—State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith of Washtenaw County’s Salem Township

The lack of candidates is probably a good thing for the higher profile prospective candidates as they explore whether they can actually raise the money needed to run their options. This AP article discusses these undeclared Democratic candidates.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The surprising withdrawal of Lt. Gov. John Cherry from the Michigan governor’s race presented a golden opportunity to other Democrats who thought they’d have to wait years to run.

But they don’t have much time to decide if they’re in or out.

Some of the five Republicans in the race are poised to begin running ads in February, giving them the chance to make the first favorable impression on voters. And whichever of the uncommitted Democrats jumps into race first could grab the biggest share of donations and endorsements, leaving latecomers with crumbs.

"You can buy a little bit more time as long as everybody else is still up in the air on this," political strategist Tom Shields of Marketing Resources Group said Thursday. "But when those campaign committees start forming, and people start raising money and getting commitments, that’s when you need to either fish or cut bait."

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak hears the clock ticking. Although he has a safe congressional seat and powerful committee assignments, the Democrat from Menominee is considering running for governor.

"This isn’t something that presents itself very often," Stupak told The Associated Press. "You have to take a look at it."

He’s heading to Detroit on Friday to meet with party activists and get a better feel for whether he wants to run. At the same time, he is deeply involved in negotiations over the federal health care overhaul bill and language restricting how abortions are covered by insurance.

A run for governor "is appealing, but from a practical point of view, can you do it with this compressed time line we have? Health care compresses it even more," Stupak said. He noted that GOP gubernatorial candidate and fellow congressman Pete Hoekstra faces some of the same constraints, "but he’s at least been out there another year."

Stupak knows his opposition to abortion could prove a hurdle to getting the nomination. The former state trooper also is a gun-rights advocate. But he has spoken with former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, an abortion opponent who ran in the 2002 Democratic governor’s race, and said he’s encouraged so far.

Among the others eyeing the race, University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch spent Wednesday evening introducing herself at a Democratic mixer in Grand Rapids after discussing a possible run with White House and Democratic Governors Association officials in Washington the night before.

Although she won a statewide race in 2008 as regent, the lawyer from Bingham Farms isn’t well-known in Democratic circles, despite her family owning sports teams, casinos and the Little Caesar’s pizza chain. She’s working to change that, but could be hampered by a pattern of donating to Republicans as well as Democrats.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reports Ilitch gave $2,000 to former President George W. Bush in 2003, the same year she gave $1,000 to Republican U.S. Rep. Candice Miller. Former President George H.W. Bush got $1,000 in 1992 from Ilitch, who gave the Michigan Republican State Committee $1,000 in 2000.

Ilitch also donated $3,300 to 2008 Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and at least $7,500 over the years to Democrats such as Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Carl Levin and the late Ted Kennedy. The Michigan Democratic State Central Committee received $3,000 between 2005 and 2009.

She did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday to her law office.

Other Democrats considering a run are also on record as donating to Republicans. House Speaker Andy Dillon, who has formed an exploratory committee, gave $1,000 to the Michigan Republican State Committee in 1994, records show.

"We’re going to chalk it up to a youthful indiscretion," Dillon spokesman Dan Mahoney said Thursday.

State Sen. Hansen Clarke of Detroit was the first Democrat to jump in after Cherry dropped out, and Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith has been in the race since last summer. Others looking at getting in are Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee and Michigan State University Trustee George Perles.

One other potential candidate is Robert Bowman, CEO of Major League Baseball’s Internet operations and state treasurer in the 1980s under then-Gov. James Blanchard. Okemos public relations consultant Bob Kolt said Blanchard and others are talking to Bowman about getting into the race.

Bowman, who has a summer home in Harbor Springs and works in New York City, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HELP WANTED: Chief executive, must be miracle worker

With an unemployment rate of around 15 percent, you’d think that no job opening in Michigan would go unanswered.

But there’s one high profile job that will be available at the end of the year that no one seems to want to apply for: Democratic candidate for Governor of Michigan.

First Lt. Gov. John Cherry was forced to bow out of a race of which he was the front-runner because he couldn’t raise any money.

Next, former Detroit mayor and prominent attorney Dennis Archer declared that he wasn’t interested.

Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow have both said that they won’t run.  (It’s in there. Trust me.)

Now, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said he’s not running either.

While House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford) seems like a logical candidate that is well-known statewide, but his popularity among the party rank-and-file is questionable in light of his support of consolidating the benefit plans of all state employees. Plus, he’s only just formed a committee to raise money for a potential bid. What if he runs into the same problem that Cherry did?

It’s getting so strange that some of the names being bandied about as great candidates either have no public affairs experience  (Denise Ilitch) or just don’t make sense (Joe Dumars).

Surely, someone will take the plunge. Mike Cox is the only Republican to win a statewide election since 1998. [UPDATE: An astute commenter reminded me that Terri Lynn Land also won two elections as Secretary of State as a Republican. Thanks for reminding me.] (Judicial elections don’t count as they technically aren’t affiliated with parties). The task of following up Governor Granholm can’t be that daunting, can it?

(On second thought, don’t answer that.)