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Let the speculation begin, names for Michigan’s next governor already being floated

A certain fact in politics: it is never too soon to start thinking about elections; particularly if you want to win them.

2016, 2018, 2020…

There’s always a lot of hand-wringing about the so-called “permanent campaign” – where it seems someone’s always running for something. It’s a reality that’s probably been pushed to the extreme by term limits.

The political class is always charting out long-term career plans and policy strategies. It is how any ambitious endeavor gets done.

So even though the focus is usually on the next round of elections - in this case 2016 – there are people already thinking about 2018.

And that is because every election is both a referendum on the status quo and a set-up for the following election cycle. And, sometimes, even further out than that.


In 2012, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette was Mitt Romney’s Michigan campaign chair. Not only in that position did he serve the Republican cause, it also allowed him to build and maintain a Schuette campaign machine. (Because if Bill Schuette’s interest in running for governor in 2018 is a secret, it’s basically the worst-kept secret in Michigan politics.)

So, look for Schuette to do something similar in the 2016 cycle and if you’d like a speculative hint: the attorney general has a long political history with the Bush family.

Neither major party in Michigan has a field-clearing candidate or short list waiting to run for governor in 2018

Any organizational efforts on behalf of Jeb Bush - or any other candidate - could pay off nicely in 2018 with volunteer networks, e-mail lists, small and large donor contacts.

A lot of people think that was part of millionaire businessman Paul Mitchell’s design when he spearheaded the campaign to vanquish the ballot question on road-funding last month. And a lot of people will be watching to see if Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley and Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller make similar moves to help cinch the 2018 gubernatorial nod.

“I will not be a candidate for governor”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan kicked off the surge in the 2018 gubernatorial speculation game when he announced a few weeks ago at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, “I will be very clear… I will not be a candidate for governor in 2018. And, I said it to you and the members of the media – leave me out of your stories, leave me out of your polls, leave me out of your speculation… I will not be a candidate for governor, please don’t ask me again.”

Until the conference, Duggan was widely seen as the presumptive Democratic frontrunner had he announced.

His announcement was certainly welcome news to other Democrats eyeing the race including Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Congressman Dan Kildee. Detroit federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade’s name has also been mentioned.

A dark horse

Let’s not forget, a lot can happen in the 1247 days until the next election for governor (but, who’s counting?)

Like the current Republican presidential field (and completely unlike the Hillary’s-to-lose Democratic field), neither major party in Michigan has a field-clearing candidate or short list waiting to run for governor.

Who, three years before the 2010 gubernatorial election, really thought an Ann Arbor businessman with no statewide name recognition or political experience would become Michigan’s next governor? Rick Snyder was a complete 2010 surprise and we could see history repeat itself. 

It's Just Politics co-hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta talk about the surge in the 2018 gubernatorial speculation game.

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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