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Analyzing Sunday's debate between Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer

Virtually everyone in Michigan politics, including those who write about it, is analyzing last night’s debate between Governor Rick Snyder and his Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer. 

Both sides put their own spin on this debate even before it was over. I’ve seen a lot of debates in my time, live or recorded, including every presidential debate in the modern era.

I have some thoughts on this one.

But I wanted to start with an observation that you might think comes out of left field. Shortly after the debate, I was copied on an e-mail letter a fellow named Kenneth Hreha sent to an anchorman at one of Detroit’s TV networks.

I was struck by these lines:

Hreha said, “The incumbent Rick Snyder didn’t even have the common courtesy to come professionally dressed in a suit and tie, a true reflection of the laziness of this man and the public policies that hurt working people.”

Now, Hreha is scarcely neutral. He voted for Snyder four years ago, but since has come to hate him.

He was laid off from a job working for the state, and the only job he’s been able to find since pays less and has no benefits.

But aside from that, do citizens want a governor who looks like them or one who shows up dressed like an authority figure? Originally, I thought Snyder’s casual style a big plus in today’s world.

Now, I’m not so sure. I know that after Mark Schauer did one commercial casually dressed, one of the elder statesmen of the Democratic Party yelled at him, saying he needed to wear a dark suit and look like the citizens expect a man in charge to look.

My guess is that this debate was a plus for the challenger. All things being equal, such contests usually are, since in them, the candidate who doesn’t have the job is the incumbent’s equal. 

Neither man was overwhelming. But Snyder tended to spout a bewildering list of figures. He looked weak, frankly, when he refused to take any position on same-sex marriages.  He also tended to ramble, and more than once had to be asked to stop.

However, Mark Schauer didn’t score any knockout punches either. I thought he missed a golden chance to zero in on the fact that the governor has utterly failed to get legislators from his own party to fix the roads. But the governor in turn failed to point out that Mr. Schauer doesn’t really have a plan to fix the roads.

And the Democrat repeated the phrase “job-killing pension tax” so often that the governor even once said it, probably to the chagrin of his handlers. My guess is that this debate won’t be a major factor in deciding who we choose for governor three weeks from now.

But if any undecided voters actually saw this, they may have seen a contest between a kindly, if a bit hyper, guy who seems to be on the side of the average voter, and a fellow who came across like an accountant trying to prove things are better than they seem.

Governor Snyder did not seem eager to debate at all this year.

Last night made it fairly clear why.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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