Michigan voters face many choices on election day but want only 1 thing: a better economy

By Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP
Saturday, July 31, 2010

Michigan voters search for economic savior

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan voters frustrated over lost jobs, home foreclosures and budget deficits will vote in Tuesday’s primary election for leaders they hope can move the state out of its economic morass.

With seven men running for governor and nearly two dozen candidates running for three open congressional seats, the hardest task may be sorting through the barrage of names, campaign ads and economic rhetoric.

The candidates and voters agree that Michigan is at a crossroads. After a decade of malaise that has left the state with the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate and one in every four residents relying on unemployment insurance, Medicaid, cash assistance or food stamps, creating more jobs is the overwhelming priority and topic of debate.

The gubernatorial candidates are competing to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who can’t run again because of term limits and whose popularity sank with her struggles to revive the economy.

All seven gubernatorial candidates say they plan to cut business taxes to attract employers. Most of the five Republicans also say they would slash state regulations and cut state spending. One, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, proposes getting rid of laws forcing workers to join unions to get certain jobs.

Among the Democrats, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is visiting factory gates and union halls to pledge he’ll stand up for middle-class workers and jobs. His opponent, Andy Dillon, a business turnaround specialist who’s now the House speaker, promises to bring in more alternative energy jobs to replace lost manufacturing work.

With platforms that are similar, the Republicans are using their job credentials to assure voters they would be the best at managing the economy.

Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor venture capitalist and former president of computer maker Gateway Inc., is promoting himself as the only businessman and job-creator in the race. U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra has served 18 years in the House but also emphasizes his 15 years as an executive at furniture maker Herman Miller Inc.

Although not a businessman, Attorney General Mike Cox has won the support of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce with his pledge to eventually eliminate state business taxes.

Republican voter Tom Shedd, a 60-year-old retired police officer from Albion, said he’s trying to figure out who would do the most for the economy. “I want a fiscal conservative. I want a moral conservative,” Shedd said. “The only way you’re going to create jobs or bring jobs to Michigan is to get an environment tax-wise that’s appealing to a business person.”

Hoekstra has been targeted in television ads by Cox and outside groups for voting to bail out the financial industry and raise the federal debt ceiling, two moves unpopular with tea partiers in the state. Meanwhile, Cox is fighting off allegations that he mishandled a 2003 investigation into rumors of a never-proven wild party at the Detroit mayor’s official residence. Polls have shown no clear leader among Snyder, Cox and Hoekstra. But an EPIC-MRA poll conducted Monday and Tuesday showed Bouchard and state Sen. Tom George significantly trailing in the GOP contest.

Among the Democrats, Dillon’s stance against abortion and embryonic stem cell research is also drawing attention. Polls indicate his position is unpopular with traditional Democrats and could play a role in the outcome. Dillon has garnered support among many business groups while Bernero has the most union backing. Bernero had an apparent lead in an EPIC-MRA poll conducted July 24-26, but more than a quarter of voters remained undecided.

In Detroit, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick is facing a tough challenge to keep the seat she has held for nearly 14 years but the issue is not the city’s devastated economy, where unemployment was 24 percent in June. Opponent Sen. Hansen Clarke has stressed the legal problems of her son, Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned as Detroit mayor in 2008 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, and is now in prison for probation violations and facing federal fraud and tax charges. The winner of the five Democratic candidates is all but guaranteed a general election victory in the heavily Democratic district.

Elsewhere in the state, three congressmen are retiring after 18 years, setting off a scramble to replace them.

National Republicans are focused on trying to regain the northern Michigan seat held by 1st District Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, who retired after fighting hard to get a presidential guarantee that the new federal health care plan wouldn’t allow public money to be used for abortions.

The GOP race to replace him revolves as much around geography as ideology. Surgeon Dan Benishek lives in the state’s Upper Peninsula, which is separated from the rest of the state by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and prizes gun rights and self-reliance; state Sen. Jason Allen of Alanson represents the tourism-oriented resort communities in the northern Lower Peninsula. Democratic state Rep. Gary McDowell of Rudyard is running unopposed.

With Hoekstra running for governor, the open 2nd District seat that runs along Lake Michigan has pulled seven Republicans into the race. The decision of Grand Rapids GOP Rep. Vern Ehlers to retire has attracted five GOP candidates and two Democrats in the 3rd District primary.

National GOP interest in unseating freshmen Democratic Reps. Mark Schauer in mid-Michigan’s 7th District and Gary Peters in the Detroit suburbs in Oakland County has Republicans vying in both districts for the chance at a November matchup.

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