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A third Snyder term?

Rick Snyder cannot run for governor again because he’s term-limited.

But that doesn’t mean Michigan’s CEO Governor isn’t working on a succession plan. Snyder’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley seems to be making moves toward a run for the top job.

This is the period of the “shadow campaign” as quiet talks are underway with strategists, opinion leaders, and prospective donors. They’re measuring support and making plans for next year, when Michigan voters will elect a new governor.

Calley’s competition for the Republican nomination will almost certainly include Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, much beloved by the Republican base. This will likely continue the rivalry between the two factions that’s existed since almost the beginning of this administration.

Calley is much more likely than Schuette to continue Snyder-era programs like the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion and increasing taxes to pay for roads.

Governor Snyder has rarely passed up the chance to talk up his Lieutenant lately, like at a recent press conference about the administration’s plan to battle the opioid epidemic.

“So with that, let me turn it over to an outstanding partner I’ve had for a number of years, and I’m happy to share this podium because he’s been a leader on this topic, among many others - Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley,” Snyder told the crowd.

Calley’s been out front on the administration’s response to the Flint water crisis, eliminating childhood lead exposure, overhauling the mental health system, and bargaining with the Legislature on key issues.

And, power couple alert: Calley’s wife Julie Calley is a new Republican state representative serving her freshman term.

A glance at the public schedule shows an administration putting Calley in the spotlight. The governor doesn’t venture out nearly as often as Calley, who’s out and about on an almost-daily basis.

But one cannot ignore the reality that the track record for Lieutenant Governors becoming Governor is not good.

The last was Governor Bill Milliken, who stepped into the job when Governor George Romney joined the Nixon cabinet. His lieutenant governor, Jim Brickley lost the Republican primary after Milliken retired.

Governor John Engler tried to position Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus to take over, but he lost to Jennifer Granholm.

Granholm’s lieutenant governor, John Cherry, launched a campaign to succeed her, but walked away when it became clear winning wasn’t in the cards. It was Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero who faced and lost to Rick Snyder in 2010.   

Calley will also have to shake incumbent fatigue among voters, and the fact that, while Snyder’s numbers are improving, polling suggests the public is still not satisfied overall with the job he’s doing.

Calley will have to pull off a difficult balancing act if he runs on his and the administration’s record while distinguishing himself as his own person with his own plans and his own political future.

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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