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Opponents become conspirators in race for GOP primary

Helping your adversary to help yourself.

It’s a political tactic and we’re seeing it right now in Michigan’s Republican primary for governor.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley is running for governor. But, it looks like he’s polling behind fellow Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Schuette has been touting his conservative credentials including an endorsement from President Donald Trump.

So, what’s Calley to do? Well, find someone else with conservative cred to try and split those conservative votes.

Cue Patrick Colbeck. He’s a Republican state Senator known for giving fellow Republicans in the Legislature heartburn. He’s paid the price for not being a team player by being stripped of his committee assignments and he no longer controls his office staff.

But he has a friend in Brian Calley. Calley has called for a roadshow, a bunch of town hall-style debates that other Republicans in the race take part in.

Bill Schuette, however, said no.

Colbeck said yes. Jim Hines, an even more obscure candidate, said yes, in order to bolster his profile.

These three candidates have a common interest: to take Bill Schuette down a peg or two.

But, Calley’s interest, in particular, is to hand conservatives an alternative to Schuette in hopes of dividing that vote and running up the middle to win.

It’s not unlike his friend and mentor, Governor Rick Snyder. Almost eight years ago, Snyder was able to splinter the conservative party vote in the Republican primary and he won.

So, it is part of Calley’s campaign plan to lift up Colbeck as an alternative to conservative Republicans who would never vote for him.

Of course, Calley has to hope this tactic holds just limited success, while Colbeck banks on a surge.

Sometimes we see this divide-and-conquer strategy employed by candidates in a different way - they recruit other candidates to appear on the ballot with names that sound like their opponents and then hope voters are confused.

But the idea is the same -- split the votes that would otherwise go to your opponent to deny the other side a majority, and victory.

There’s an ancient saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And in primaries, in particular, it’s not unusual for friends to become enemies.

But sometimes, enemies become friends.


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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