Saturday, November 11, 2006

Analysis: Governor

Republican Dick DeVos lost Michigan's gubernatorial race decisively to Democratic incumbent Jennifer Granholm. She got 2,139,839 votes to his 1,606,058. That's 56% to 42%. Granholm won 54 of 83 counties. DeVos lost about 5% from what Dick Posthumus won in 2002. About 600,000 more people voted than in 2002, and 500,000 of those votes went to Granholm. What had appeared to be a close race turned into a rout.

So why did DeVos lose?

The national environment turned against Republicans to the point that there probably wasn't any way to win. Independents overwhelmingly voted Democratic. Still, the loss didn't have to be as bad as it was.

One problem that I noted early on was the danger of a self-funding candidate. Despite all the hype, they rarely win. In 2004, 25 candidates spent more than a million dollars of their own money on their own campaigns. Twenty-four of them lost. The only one who won beat one of the other 24. There have been a few high-profile exceptions like Jon Corzine and Michael Bloomberg. The simple truth is that voters don't like rich people. Despite the hype, money can't buy elections, and it can't make you a good candidate, either.

It would be too harsh to say that DeVos was a terrible candidate. He just wasn't nearly as good a candidate as Granholm. She may not be a competent governor, but she looks good, makes good speeches, and performs well in debates. Meanwhile, DeVos' first debate performance was a disaster. He did better in the other two, but few people saw those.

More seriously, DeVos never made a compelling case for why he should be governor. He pointed out Michigan's uniquely bad economy and blamed the governor. But he never really explained why it was her fault or what he would do differently. Meanwhile, after years of promising government miracles, Granholm eventually more accurately blamed systematic factors like the bad state of the auto industry. I don't doubt that Granholm contributed to the state's problems, or that DeVos would have been a better governor. But government cannot make the economy do well.

DeVos also completely ignored social issues in his campaign. He gave up many valuable opportunities to hammer the Governor on her record. She vetoed the partial birth abortion ban, opposed the concealed carry law when it was passed, opposed the state marriage amendment, and opposed limiting the expansion of gambling. On all these issues, a clear majority of Michiganders were on the opposite side of the governor.

Instead, he focused solely on Michigan's bad economy, hoping to ride it to victory without having to talk about "divisive" social issues. In a better year, with a different opponent, that might have worked. But he gave up the opportunity to peel voters away from Granholm on all these issues.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that DeVos should have focused exclusively or mainly on these issues. The economy was definitely the number one issue. But it was not the only issue.

I suspect that Jack Hoogendyk would have gotten more votes than DeVos did. Next time, Republicans should nominate a proven vote-getter for Governor, like Terri Land, Mike Cox, or Candice Miller.


Anonymous said...

You are wrong. DeVos was a terrible candidate and Granholm is a competent Governor, including, a solid public speaker, a great debater and one hell of a public servant. To put it simply, the better candidate won.

Matthew said...

Excellent points; our Governor should be the candidate which is the better public speaker and debater.

On a more serious note, I think the reason that candidates who spend a lot of money on their campaign fail is because they have to spend a lot of their own money on their campaign. If a candidate can raise significant outside funding, it means that the donators feel they are a strong choice with an excellent chance of winning (who wants to throw money at a loser?). Thus if DeVos is forced to make up a spending gap from his own coffers, it means that he was unable to obtain external funding because donators for one reason or another didn't feel he was a winnable candidate.