Election Preview: Michigan Gubernatorial Primary

Primary Date: May 15, 2018

General Election: November 6th, 2018

After two terms as Michigan’s chief executive, Republican Rick Snyder will leave office with some of the lowest approval ratings in the United States. His handling of the Flint water crisis and financial mismanagement have plagued his administration. His performance has opened the door for Democrats, while some potential Republicans look to distance themselves from his tenure. The gubernatorial race in Michigan could become one of the tightest races in the 2018 midterms. Republicans have controlled state executive offices and the state legislature since 2011, while Democrats have held the state’s two Senate seats since 2001.

In the Democratic primary, Gretchen Whitmer, a former state senate minority leader from 2011 to 2015, remains the favorite. She has received endorsements from the United Auto Workers, the Michigan teamsters, the Michigan Education Association, the American Federation of State Council and Municipal Employees (the Great Lakes State has nearly 400,000 organized labor members). Whitmer’s campaign message is centered on workers’ rights, childcare and fiscal responsibility. Her closest challenger is Abdul El-Sayed, a Rhodes Scholar, medical doctor and former director of the Detroit Health Department. The 33-year-old is running to the left of Whitmer with a campaign focused on investments in the economy, education, and the environment. However, issues over El-Sayed’s state residency could upend his candidacy. Michigan law stipulates that a gubernatorial candidate must remain a qualified voter in the state for four years before an election. As a professor at Columbia University in New York City in 2014, El-Sayed said he maintained legal residence by owning a condominium in Michigan.

Trailing behind El-Sayed is William Cobbs, a retired Xerox executive and navy veteran who wants to improve education and the state’s infrastructure. Also running is Shri Thanedar, a businessman and entrepreneur who owns and manages several companies. He’s already contributed $6 million to his own campaign and wants to help small businesses grow by ending corporate welfare.

In the GOP race, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley have emerged as the two favorites. Snyder has already endorsed Calley, while President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have backed Schuette. Calley has begun touting his work to cut corporate taxes, while Schuette has pledged to create jobs. Snyder’s endorsement will certainly help Calley with fundraising opportunities. However, the attorney general has the support of a Republican president whose economic message resonated with the region’s blue collar workforce. Schuette leads in early polling, but his margin remains slim.

Also running in the GOP primary is State Senator Patrick Colbeck, Dr. Jim Hines, retired General Motors employee Earl Lackie, and Afghanistan Army veteran Evan Space.

According to a January poll among 600 voters by The Detroit News, Whitmer leads Schuette by seven points in a hypothetical matchup. In a matchup with El-Sayed, Schuette lead 37 to 33 percent. Furthermore, 62 percent of voters said they knew Schuette, compared to 42 percent for Calley. In the Democratic side, 35 percent knew Whitmer’s name, compared with 34 percent for El-Sayed.

According to the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, the general election is considered a toss-up.

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