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Where things stand in the race for governor in Michigan

After this week, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what the 2018 governor’s race will look like in Michigan.

In just a little more than a year, Republicans and Democrats in Michigan will choose their candidates for governor in the August primary. Governor Rick Snyder is term-limited so, it’s a wide open field.

This is the time of the “quiet” campaign before the general public is fully engaged. Candidates are building campaign teams, recruiting volunteers and courting donors. We’ll get a better sense of who’s financially serious when campaigns release new fundraising numbers later in the week.

But make no mistake, the messages, the issues and the way the candidates are trying to frame and position themselves is well underway. And, those messages and issues will be determined largely by who gets in and who stays out of the race.

On the Democratic side there’s former Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit health director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed and entrepreneur Shri Thanedar.

Whitmer is the more well-known within Lansing political circles but not as much in Detroit or Grand Rapids. Her message is all about her 14 years of experience in the state Legislature and her willingness to fight Republicans.

El-Sayed, who hasn’t held elective office, is instead pushing himself as someone who will reorient government. His message: Experience as a lawmaker doesn’t mean you’ll be a good chief executive. And, he’s positioning himself as the progressive in the race.

If that narrative sounds familiar, like Hillary vs. Bernie, it’s because it is. El-Sayed was a Bernie Sanders supporter. He also says he can actually pick up voters who are disillusioned by both parties. Even folks, he says, who voted for Trump.

Entrepreneur Shri Thanedar is trying to pull kind of a Democratic Rick Snyder by putting his private sector experience to work in the public sector.  

Whitmer will try to make the primary about her insider’s capacity to get things done and her practical experience to help Democrats win on their issues but El-Sayed and Thanedar could push things in different directions, like commitment to progressive causes.

On the Republican side, this past weekend, state Senator Patrick Colbeck announced he’s running.

His presence changes the conversation because he’s super conservative. This could push other Republicans farther to the right on issues like the Medicaid expansion and road funding.

Colbeck has never been afraid to buck Snyder and Republican leaders. He could easily push other Republicans out of their comfort zone.

A Doctor Jim Hines has already turned in signatures to get on the Republican primary ballot but, as we've talked about before on It's Just Politics, we’re waiting to see if and when the real marquee names of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley get in.

One of the challenge for Republicans in 2018 will be keeping together the Trump coalition in the face of headwinds that work against the party in the White House in the mid-terms. Democrats, meanwhile, need to figure out how to get their voters to turn out and not sit out the election like so many did in 2016.

There’s a constant tension in campaign messaging between sticking to your plan and reacting to your opponents. Between sticking to your message, and counter-messaging. It’s difficult to pull off.

Stateside's conversation with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, hosts of It's Just Politics.

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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