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'Blue State' project targets Snyder, other GOP governors in states Obama won

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

We’re into the 2013 winter holiday season, which means we’re just a few weeks away from 2014 and a new round of big statewide elections.

That includes Governor Rick Snyder’s reelection bid -- which isn’t quite “official” yet, despite an active campaign committee, ads, and political consultants.

Still, it’s good to be a Republican governor these days. The presidential race is in the rearview mirror, the economy’s ticking up slowly, and people are looking at Washington and seeing nothing but gridlock and dysfunction.

But Democrats still see opportunity for putting one of their own into the governor’s office in Michigan, as well as eight other states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. Politico says the Democratic Governors Association has secured a commitment from President Obama to fundraise, campaign, and provide material support to help pick up those states.

Mark Schauer, the former state legislator and congressman, is still on track to be the Democrats’ nominee here in Michigan. He’s off to D.C. on Monday to meet with the Democratic Governors Association as part of its “blue state” project.

Plenty of polling (including this one from the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy & Social Research) suggests the president faces a new wave of declining unpopularity. But there are things that, really, only a president can do. That includes firing up the Democratic base and fundraising. A president, even one whose popularity is below 50 percent, can still fundraise like no one else.

Nevertheless, Republicans will benefit again from an anti-Obama backlash the way Snyder, John Kasich in Ohio, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin (among others) did in 2010.

But, as is often the case, it may not be that simple, at least for Snyder.  Michigan holds a unique place in the Obama canon – mostly because of the auto industry bailout (or 'rescue,' if you prefer). The White House considers it one of the key successes of the Obama administration.

By the way, look for Democrats to try to hang Mitt Romney’s position on the auto industry rescue on Rick Snyder even though it was not the same position. Romney opposed it. Rick Snyder in his own squishy way was basically for it.

As a matter of fact, Snyder, like other Republican governors, has a mixed history with this president. John Kasich embraced the Medicaid expansion in Ohio. And everyone remembers how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie literally embraced the president after Hurricane Sandy.

There has been no hugging (as far as we know) between Rick Snyder and President Obama. But we have seen the two of them play an awful lot of footsie. On public transportation, the Medicaid expansion, the new bridge between Detroit and Canada, we saw Snyder and the president and his administration play awfully nice.

During the presidential campaign, Rick Snyder would not, resolutely would not, criticize the president, even though he did endorse Romney. Obama-bashing was left to the presidential candidate himself. (And it wasn’t just Snyder.)

Now, we have new national unemployment numbers that, just this morning, show hiring is up. Even the recent upticks in Michigan’s unemployment rate haven’t generally been because of a falloff in hiring, but because more people have found some reason to believe they can land a job and have started looking.

Democrats will say that’s because Michigan is tracking the national recovery that’s occurring on President Obama’s watch. Conversly, Republicans will say that Michigan is running ahead of the national trend, and that’s because of the governor and the Legislature’s GOP majority.  Ownership of an economic recovery could be a key political fight in 2014, especially if it picks up speed.

That is always a tricky messaging dance -- hanging the bad stuff on the other team while claiming the good stuff for yours.

And, there’s still things Rick Snyder would like from the Obama administration -- there is still more action needed for the bridge to Canada and maybe some federal assistance for Detroit. Snyder has got to run for reelection as a Republican, on a Republican ticket that will do all it can to take advantage of a lame duck Democratic president’s troubles. But, he must also continue to play very nice with that same president. Even if, and when, the president comes to Michigan to fundraise for Mark Schauer.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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