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Starting the Governor's race a little too soon

Jack Lessenberry

A long time ago, a graceful man named Adlai Stevenson ran for president against Dwight D. Eisenhower, the much-beloved national war hero. The campaign was hopeless.

When he conceded defeat, full of charm and wit as always, a reporter asked if Stevenson planned to run again in four years. The candidate looked startled, and then broke into a broad grin. “Examine that man’s head!” he said, laughing. Stevenson would eventually run again, but he knew that nobody in the country wanted to think about another political campaign for a while.

Well, we’ve just been through a far nastier campaign, one that lasted nearly two years, saturated every communications medium known to mankind, and which has barely ended. Exactly eight weeks ago today, Americans woke up to learn to their delight – or horror – that Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States.

Since the election, I’ve talked to or heard from normal people across the spectrum, people not obsessed with politics, and if there’s anything that unites them, it’s this:

Nobody is ready for another political campaign. Nevertheless, many of us got abubbly tweet yesterday from Gretchen Whitmer, the former Democratic state senate leader.

“I’m IN!” it said. “I filed to run for governor. I’m ready to fight for a better Michigan.” Whitmer isn’t the only ambitious politician out there. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is also clearly running for governor, and has been for years, possibly even since his umbilical cord was severed. But he hasn’t formally announced yet.

And while it may not do her any lasting damage, I think Whitmer made a mistake in announcing so soon. She has a lot of strengths. She is charismatic, articulate and appeals to some powerful constituencies. Democrats have wanted her to run for statewide office before, either for governor or attorney general. She begged off then, saying her daughters were too young, though some thought she also calculated that she wasn’t likely to win.

Whitmer comes from some money, and financing a campaign may be easier for her than for some others. The odds will likely favor the Democrats in the next election.

But the election is nearly two years away, and she has some weaknesses too. Though she is at 45 a relatively young woman, she may be perceived by some as part of the old-boy network. Democrats in Lansing tend to favor her. But many of those a little farther away from the I-496 beltway think Dan Kildee, the congressman from Flint, would be stronger.

Nearly all Whitmer’s entire career has been in the legislature. If there’s anything less popular than Athlete’s Foot, it’s the legislature, and Republicans will say that she never got anything major accomplished during her almost fourteen years there.

That’s not really fair; she was always in the minority. But the way in which they’ll attack her was clear yesterday. “Gretchen Whitmer would be a disastrous return to the unsuccessful policies of the Granholm era ... a flashback to the failed past,” said outgoing state GOP chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.

Are we really ready for more of that blah blah? Campaigns at all levels may have to start earlier than is decent these days. But I think for most of us, this is a little too soon.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's Senior news analyst. Views expressed in his essays 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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