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Does Trump help or hurt Michigan Republicans?

Michigan Republicans have packed their bags - and their hangovers - and returned home after a weekend of politics and partying on Mackinac Island.

There was a lot of celebrating over the GOP sweep in 2016, including President Trump winning Michigan, the first Republican to do so in 28 years.

2018: Big stakes

But the real focus of the party’s 32nd every-other-year leadership conference at the Grand Hotel was next year: Election 2018. That’s when every major statewide office is open. Voters in Michigan will choose a new Governor, Lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state (all currently held by term-limited Republicans).

The GOP will also try to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, and all 14 congressional races will be up for election, some expected to be competitive.

If that’s not enough, voters will also elect the entire state House and state Senate in 2018.

The Trump effect

The sweltering hot weekend was a chance for political wannabes – some already well-known names, others hoping to start building recognition and reputations – to stroll the island and connect with Republicans with the means and the interest to make the trip to Mackinac.

And, there was a lot of quiet chatter over how to deal with their controversial, unpredictable president. While polling suggests that two-thirds of voters overall disapprove of Trump, Republicans still seem to dig him.

And they still think they’re better off sticking with him.

“I think if you want to win, you want to be closer to Trump than farther away from Trump,” Michigan Tea Party leader Wes Nakagiri told It’s Just Politics.

State Senator and candidate for governor Patrick Colbeck echoed that theme saying, “I think a lot of people, American people are just looking for results, and his policy platform is a strong platform. I support his vision of where we want to take this country.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, an announced Republican candidate for governor who recently got a boost when Trump tweeted support of him, says, “Michigan Republicans are big-time fans of President Trump.”

Schuette - former congressman, U.S. Senate candidate, state senator, appeals court judge, and now attorney general - is the consummate insider who makes no secret that he loves the game of politics. And loves being a candidate.

“I like this. I mean, I feel liberated. It’s kind of like jumping into Lake Michigan on a hot day. I like this stuff,” he told It’s Just Politics.

A friendly audience

Schuette worked the island like it was his job. He greeted attendees at the docks as they boarded ferries to take them to the island. He roamed the hotel, meetings and receptions. He served coffee during breakfast and scooped ice cream for attendees one afternoon.

Within a 24 hour period, he picked up support from former Congresswoman Candice Miller and former Michigan Governor John Engler, and emerged as the big winner in an unscientific straw poll of Republicans.

All in all, It was a good weekend to be Bill Schuette. But having a good weekend on a resort island crowded with party insiders is not the same as winning over fickle Republican primary voters less than a year from now. 

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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