TOPICS > Politics > Election 2014

Economic uncertainty haunts Michigan governor’s re-election bid

October 13, 2014 at 6:15 PM EDT
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is fighting for re-election in Michigan, a state that voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. His opponent, Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, is using Snyder’s economic record to weaken the incumbent. Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To politics now, and to Michigan, where Republican Governor Rick Snyder is in a tough fight for reelection. Snyder is one of a handful of Republican governors elected four years ago in states that voted for Barack Obama for president.

Christy McDonald, special correspondent for Detroit Public Television, has this report.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder moves eagerly through an appreciative crowd at a recent town hall event in a Detroit suburb, while, outside, a small taste of what he’s up against this election.

The Republican governor campaigned four years ago as a political outsider, a businessman ready to pull Michigan out of economic trouble with a quirky TV spot.

GOV. RICK SNYDER, (R) Michigan: It’s the way to finally save our state.

NARRATOR: Rick Snyder for Michigan. He’s one tough nerd.

MAN: Rick Snyder.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Snyder won by 20 points, collecting Tea Party activists, independents, and moderate Democrats. He was one of a handful of Republican governors who won in states that just two years earlier had voted for Barack Obama.

Once in office, Snyder poured millions of dollars into the state’s depleted rainy day fund and pushed for streamlined business taxes. He says he’s changed the business climate that is turning things around.

GOV. RICK SNYDER: We have created nearly 300,000 private sector jobs in the last three years. We’re number one in the country in creating manufacturing jobs, number four in high-paying jobs. So we have got a strong track record. And I’m proud of that. But I want to keep building on that.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Jim Thienel owns a small appliance business. He likes the job Snyder has done and now wants him to do more.

JIM THIENEL: He needs to clearly express all the wonderful things he’s done for the state of Michigan. He’s been an effective governor. And now we need an effective leader that is going to get out and motivate people and inspire people.

GOV. RICK SNYDER: Here’s a list of what we have done in the last three years. I’m proud of this.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: And while Michigan is doing better, its unemployment rate is still the sixth highest in the nation.

REP: MARK SCHAUER, Democratic Michigan Gubernatorial Candidate: When we vote, we win, and then we change our state.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: It’s that economic uncertainty that challenger Mark Schauer, a former state legislator and one-term congressman, highlights on the stone.

MARK SCHAUER: Let’s finish the job. Yes. Let’s finish the job.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Schauer is asking the classic question, are you doing better than you were four years ago?

So, right now, you’re saying that the biggest issue in this campaign right now is the economy and where people feel they are right now?

MARK SCHAUER: Well, I think it’s who the economy is working for. And I think they see Rick Snyder’s economy may work for the folks at the top, but it’s not working for them.

The guy that ran four years ago ran as one tough nerd. As soon as he took office, he got tough on all the wrong people.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Schauer also started capitalizing on education concerns in Michigan, mentioning frequently that he’s the son of a teacher.

Betty Aubin is a recently retired schoolteacher.

BETTY AUBIN: I think he knows so much about it because of his background of his parents in it, and he’s a person that understands what’s being undermined and what’s happening.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Fueling the biggest controversy of the race, Schauer says Governor Snyder has cut $1 billion from education.

MARK SCHAUER: It is undisputable that his first budget cut funding for our pre-K through 12th grade schools by $930 million, further cut community colleges, cut higher education, our universities by 15 percent.

WOMAN: Governor Rick Snyder cut a billion dollars.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: A TV spot authorized by Schauer features teachers claiming Snyder did cut the budget and it’s being felt in the classroom. Snyder says, that’s a lie, that as the state’s fiscal situation has improved, there has been increasing investment in schools and teacher pensions.

GOV. RICK SNYDER: Because the numbers are solid. There is no doubt. We have had multiple media sources confirm it. I have put over $1.1 billion more into K-12 with state dollars over the last three years. And the budget I just signed into law is a billion dollars higher than the year I took office.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: It’s getting voters talking and teachers unions motivated. Two years in a whirlwind lame-duck session that brought thousands to the state capital in protest, the legislature passed a right-to-work bill.

PROTESTER: Governor Snyder…

PROTESTERS: Governor Snyder…

PROTESTER: … must veto!

PROTESTERS: … must veto!

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Governor Snyder signed it, even though he kept repeating it wasn’t on his agenda, and with that, the moderate un-politician started to look more conservative.

Susan Demas is the publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

SUSAN DEMAS, Inside Michigan Politics: He doesn’t want those Tea Party voters to sit home on November 4, but, at the same time, if he really plays up his conservative credentials to try and woo those voters, then he risks alienating the moderate and independent voters. And he needs those voters as well. So he’s in a tough position.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: One factor in this race, Detroit. The city is undergoing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. It was Governor Snyder who appointed an emergency manager, suspending the powers of elected officials. He’s also the one who signed off on Chapter 9.

Last year, protesters pushed back against Snyder’s emergency manager.

MAN: It violates our civil rights, but it also violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Now, with Detroit set to emerge from bankruptcy and some city services running a bit more smoothly, Snyder can take some of the credit.

Stephen Henderson is the editorial page editor of The Detroit Free Press.

STEPHEN HENDERSON, The Detroit Free Press: So, it’s something he can hold up as an accomplishment, and he’s so close to being done with that right now. That’s something he should be trumpeting.

MARK SCHAUER: Are you ready to deliver the knockout punch?


CHRISTY MCDONALD: The race in Michigan will of course come down to turnout. Will Democrats and the unions fire up their base enough to vote in a non-presidential election year? Can Snyder motivate the independents and moderate Democrats that voted for him four years ago?

The latest polls in early October now have Snyder ahead, if just slightly, leaving Michigan as one state to watch come Election Day, November 4.