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GOP Mackinac conference a set-up for Snyder 2014 re-election bid

All Things Michigan

About 1,500 Michigan Republicans were on Mackinac Island this past weekend. They were gathered for the state GOP’s biennial leadership conference, where much of the focus was on a reelection campaign by Governor Rick Snyder that has yet to be formally announced.

There were plenty of hints: Snyder basked in chants of “four more years.” He rolled out a campaign video. He invited people to sign nominating petitions to put him on the August primary ballot next year.

But when asked about a formal announcement on his reelection plans?

"I’m really focused on being governor. When you’re in the official candidate role that makes it more confusing for people."

“Stay-tuned,” the governor said, adding that kind of announcement this early would shift the focus prematurely to the 2014 election.

“I’m really focused on being governor,” Snyder said. “When you’re in the official candidate role that makes it more confusing for people.” 

But Snyder makes no secret of the fact that he intends to seek a second term, and used the Michigan Republican conference to test out some campaign messages, even tossing out some prospective slogans.

“One that I really do appreciate, that I’ve used in my life is, ‘Said it. Did it.”

Also, “One Successful Nerd.” That’s the title of the five-minute campaign video. It’s a play on the “One Tough Nerd” slogan used in Snyder’s first campaign. The governor’s early “pre-campaign” materials tout the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax, efforts to fix Detroit’s financial crisis, and an improving state economy.

Also testing out some campaign messages over the weekend was Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson, quite possibly the lone Democrat at mingling with Republicans and reporters at the conference.

“Where are the jobs?” Johnson asked. “It was just released that we have a 9 percent unemployment rate, higher than the national average.”

That is, still higher than the national average, a fact that certainly pre-dates the Snyder administration by years.

There was at least one other Snyder critic roaming the sweeping porch and halls of the Grand Hotel.

"If the policy that's being pushed is diametrically opposed to the Republican Party platform ... I will speak out against it."

Tea Party activist Wes Nakagiri wants to replace Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley on the GOP ticket. Under state party rules, nominees for governor can ask, but they don’t get to choose their running mates. That job falls to delegates to the party’s summer convention.

Nakagiri says this kind of challenge sends a message to Snyder and Republicans – a message that they need to align more closely to conservative principals if they’re going to win tea party support as they try to hang onto the governor’s office and their legislative majorities.

He says the governor’s support for expanding Medicaid convinced him a dissenting voice was needed in the administration.

“The difference will be that, if the policy that’s being pushed is diametrically opposed to the Republican Party platform, and this Medicaid expansion is diametrically opposed, I will speak out against it.”

There was, otherwise, little evidence of an anticipated tea party insurgency during the weekend’s events.

Even so, the lieutenant governor spent the three days working like a man on a mission. Calley was introduced often as a “conservative voice” within the Snyder administration.

A straw poll of conference attendees gave Calley a resounding 86 percent victory over Nakagiri, which would bode well for another Snyder-Calley run. That is, when an official announcement is finally made.     

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.