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Money talks in race for governor in Michigan

We are now a year away from Election 2018. It’s the time when the concept of who a candidate might be is starting to create the reality of who that candidate will be.

We are in the period of time when candidates running for office in 2018 are trying to solidify their status as the front-runner, figuring out who’s got that all important political momentum.

President Lyndon Johnson once said, “Momentum is not a mysterious mistress. It is a controllable fact of political life.” LBJ declaring there that it’s not magic when a policy, a piece of legislation, or a candidate running for office really catches on. It is controllable.

With one year and one week left before Election 2018, this is the moment that a candidate’s momentum is starting to gel. And one sliver of how political pundits and voters see that is how much money a candidate has raised.

Money. It’s something that’s easy to rail against in politics but, like it or not, fundraising becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in campaigns. More money means more exposure. It means more slick advertising and high-paid consultants.

Candidates spend a lot of time and effort spinning their fundraising successes to other potential donors. Buzz from a good fundraising period can convince other funders that it’s time to get into the game and back a winner.

And, then, political pundits talk more about them as possible candidates with a real chance of winning because they’ve shown the funders (the power brokers) they’ve got what it takes to win.

This past week, candidates running for governor in Michigan were spinning their latest fundraising numbers. They’re pushing the number of small, grassroots donations versus large donations from rich donors and political action committees. They’re focusing on how many donations are from in state versus out of state donors.

These are dollars and figures that most voters don’t pay a lot of attention to this early on but the numbers end up being factors that the campaigns use to convince funders and opinion leaders that they’re winning.

After this past week’s fundraising numbers the narratives are beginning to swell around Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette. He’s out on top in the Republican field when it comes to the money haul. The Schuette team is hoping this most recent dollar draw will convince the Republicans that he’s the inevitable candidate. Schuette’s numbers surpass Dr. Jim Hines and state Senator Patrick Colbeck. And, the question remains, will Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley jump in?

On the Democratic side, businessman Shri Thanedar is dumping millions of dollars of his own money into the gubernatorial campaign.

Former Detroit Health Chief Abdul El-Sayed is getting great national press. And national money. But it’s former state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer who’s showing in-state donor support.

All of this is numbers and data that swirl together to create some sort of sense of inevitability.

But, of course, if you took conventional wisdom, we would have had a Governor Mike Cox in 2010 and a President Hillary Clinton sworn into office this year.

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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