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Candidates tried to set themselves apart at first Democratic gubernatorial debate

Michigan Democratic candidates at the podium
Mike Buck
Democratic strategist Adrian Hemonds weighs in on last night's debate.


The three top Democratic candidates for Michigan governor debated last night on WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids.

Shri Thanedar, Gretchen Whitmer, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed had one hour to make their case to voters. One candidate presented himself as an immigrant success story, another as the son of immigrants, and the third as the only one with experience in governing.

Adrian Hemond is a Democratic political strategist with Grassroots Midwest. He sat down with Stateside to discuss what stood out at last night's debate. 

“I think they all performed credibly,” Hemond said. “I wouldn’t say that anybody added a ton of value to their candidacy last night, but there were some interesting developments.” 

As the candidates continued to present many similar policy arguments, Hemond said last night’s debate really came down to the framing of issues. 

“Policy detail is important, but it's not that important,” Hemond said. “All of these candidates are basically in the same place regardless of the particulars of how they get there. They want to expand health care coverage to everyone in Michigan, they have slightly different ideas of how to do that. That's basically what Democratic primary voters want to see.”

According to Hemond, Democrats do a poor job explaining to voters “this is what you get when I win.” He thinks this is what caused many of the Democratic losses we saw in November 2016. Of all the candidates last night, Hemond credits Thanedar as coming the closest to addressing this. 

“His closing statement was all about 'imagine what happens after I win' — this thing, that thing, and listed off a specific list of things of what do you get when I win,” Hemond said. “Each of the candidates tried to do that. I think that in his closing statement, Mr. Thanedar probably came the closest.” 

Though El-Sayed is third in the polls, Hemond was impressed by the raw political talent he demonstrated last night. 

“I spent a lot of time watching the debate last night thinking about what might have been if either Dr. El-Sayed had run for something else first to get a little bit more practice at being a political candidate [or] his candidacy had started before the whole contretemps with Congressman John Conyers, but I think Dr. El-Sayed could have won the 13th Congressional district running away.”

If he had to call a winner, though, Hemond believes the slight advantage went to Senator Whitmer. 

“I said at the beginning I didn't think that anybody helped their candidacy a ton,” Hemond said. “I think if anybody did, it was Senator Whitmer. She had the most balanced performance last night.” 

Listen above for more insight from Democratic strategist Hemond. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

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