The Nerd Versus the Angry Mayor- A Bellweather for America?

August 9, 2010

In the ranks of blue and red states, Michigan is a bluish shade of purple, although in recent years it seems that purple has an increasingly bluish tint. Last Tuesday’s primaries produced two vastly different gubernatorial candidates and their race may tell us a lot about how much the Democrats will lose this November.

The “angry mayor” is Democrat Virg Bernero, a doctrinaire liberal who presents himself as a champion of the working class as well as a friend of business. That’s quite a tightrope to walk when the “working class” in Michigan is largely represented by unions, key among them the United Auto Workers. Bernero is a career politician, an unabashed fan of Obama and his healthcare plan, and typically and depressingly pro-choice, pro-gay rights, ad nauseam. However, Bernero is a passionate, dynamic, and persuasive speaker. Like Bill Clinton, he can energize a room while at the same time playing the underdog role as well as anyone. His Democrat opponent in the primary led Bernero all the way until the last week when it counted. Bernero earned the “angry” tag in a series of interviews and appearances around the time of the GM and Chrysler’s impending failures and the government takeovers, passionately speaking out in defense of the auto industry and their union memberships. He is the mayor of Lansing, not only the capital city but still a rather important GM manufacturing locale.

The “nerd” is Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, a whiz-kid turned computer-geek business success who has exactly zero political experience. Snyder ran an above-the-fray campaign using the “Michigan is broken and I’m a tough nerd who can fix it” mantra while his more conservative opponents beat up on each other. He sneaked into victory and in doing so gave the lie to the conventional wisdom that the conservative base of the Republican Party normally determines the Republican candidate. Although it can’t be proven and Michigan does not permit split tickets in primaries, there is an assumption that Snyder received a lot of independent voters’ support and even some moderate Democrats. Of course, the fact that the conservative votes that didn’t go to him were split amongst three opponents didn’t hurt him either.

In a normal election year, Bernero should be licking his chops. Bernero versus Snyder in a debate is like pitting Don Rickles against Gomer Pyle in terms of personalities—the attack dog against the babe in the woods. However, this is not a normal election year. And Michigan is hardly a normal state. While the country has by and large experienced the current recession since 2007-8, Michigan has been in a one-state recession since roughly 2001. Its unemployment rate is at least 50 percent higher than the national percentage. Therefore, it could be Snyder who has the chance to be on the offensive—if only he will take it—by using a page out of Obama’s playbook and asking voters if they want the tired, failed policies of the last eight years to continue. Only difference is, unlike Obama, he will have a valid point. Not only have the last eight years been miserable for Michigan, Bernero, for all his bluster otherwise, would simply be a continuation of the current, failed liberal governor in slightly different packaging.

An objective observer with no axe to grind could parachute into Michigan, spend a month or so traveling around the state, absorbing the facts about what’s really going on, and readily conclude that Michigan needs a leader like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. That is, a true leader who is not afraid to make the real changes that are so desperately needed to turn things around for the people—not just for the special interests like the too-powerful unions. It remains to be seen, with three months until the election and the real campaign just beginning, whether Rick Snyder has any of Christie’s moxie in him. However, if he wants to have any chance of winning in November, he had better do a Christie-like gut check in a hurry.

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Copyright ©2010 A. L. Smith

A.L. Smith is a military veteran who resides in Michigan and has followed politics in that state for almost 50 years.