Snyder vs. Schauer: Tech Wars Will Determine Outcome
October 10, 2014
Forget the dizzying array of political ads dominating the airwaves, or sound bites emanating from town halls and debates of major candidates in the waning days of this election. When it comes to the outcome of Michigan’s historic election of 2014—when the Governor’s seat, U.S. Senate contest and 148 open legislative seats are up for grabs—the results will be determined by which party is best able to turn out its base. Technology will take center stage in that process as each political party embraces it in different ways.
For Lon Johnson, chairman of Michigan’s Democratic Party who is almost two years into his job, it’s being laser-focused on those Democrats who didn’t bother to vote in 2010. He sees that as the path to victory for gubernatorial hopeful/ former Congressman Mark Schauer and other Dems further down the ticket. “Michigan is a blue state, a Democratic state,” he said. “In 2010 – the last time we voted for governor – 995,000 Democrats in the state just stayed home.”
In 2010 voters were disappointed in Obama; a bruising Democratic primary coupled with an ailing economy are cited as reasons why that base didn’t show up. But Johnson’s convinced that he has found the magic elixir. If he can convince just some of those people to vote this time—approximately 175,000 by his measure—they will be sitting in the winner’s circle on November 4th. He’s relying on an aggressive mix of new technology, absentee ballots and old-fashioned door-knocking to reach those people.
“We have millions we have raised for our ‘Get out the Vote’ efforts,” Johnson said. “Last time, we had $250,000.” If successfully orchestrated, “Mark Schauer will be our next governor,” Johnson predicted.
For Bobby Schostak, who has been chairman of Michigan’s Republican Party for the past four years, it’s about using innovative technology to keep in touch with the Republican base and reach out to the undecided’s and independents.
After the shellacking the GOP took at the top of the ticket in 2012 when Michigan native son Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama, Schostak launched his effort to re-energize their base. Schostak worked with Detroit-based Compuware, spending over $335,000 on a new tech application, pinpointing voters by using precinct data. “We’ve made more voter contact this election than any other time in our history,” said Schostak. “Our investment in new technology is helping us to run the most sophisticated ground game in the country, and it will help our candidates win on November 4th.”
The GOP also had 225,000 Michigan voters who simply stayed home in the 2010 election when GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rick Snyder won over Democratic challenger Virg Bernero. Schostak is convinced Snyder will again win. Numerous polls show the governor’s race between Snyder and Schauer within the statistical margin of error. But, Snyder has been slowly creeping up in some polls.
The fact that Snyder – an incumbent governor – hasn’t been able to crack the 50-percent mark in favorables doesn’t dissuade Schostak. “With this governor, we’ve had more growth in this state,” said Schostak. “People are seeing things in Detroit getting better. The state is also doing better.”
Johnson isn’t much interested in the polls. For him, it’s about connecting with Democrats who didn’t vote in 2010. “The people we are reaching out to simply aren’t included in any of those polls,” Johnson added. Another conversation piece has been the TV ads and how Snyder is identified. “He called himself, ‘The Nerd’ last time. Now, he’s, ‘The Accountant’,” said Johnson. “He doesn’t want to be called a Republican. Why? Because Michigan is a Democratic state and he knows it.” Others say the moniker doesn’t quite fit.
“The Governor isn’t your usual Republican,” said Rob Steele, a cardiologist from Ann Arbor who is running as a GOP candidate in the Regents race for the University of Michigan Board. There are two open seats. “I don’t consider myself a typical Republican either,” Steele added. Also running for UM regent: GOP businessman Ron Weiser, Kathy White (who is running for re-election as a Regent) and fellow Democrat Michael Behm.
Like most folks running for the State Board of Education, governing board positions at UM, Michigan State, Wayne State, and other spots lower on the ticket, what happens in the governor’s race will directly impact their tidings November 4th as Michiganders tend to vote along party lines.
Senate Warfare: The one exception to that rule may be the U.S. Senate race where Michigan citizens have voted for the candidate and not the party.
“The Governor’s race will drive the ticket,” said John Truscott, who worked on the campaigns of former Governor John Engler and one-time GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dick DeVos. “Michigan voters tend to vote for the individual in the governor’s race and the Senate race. That’s how [Democrat U.S. Senator] Carl Levin was able to win in a huge landslide even though [GOP Governor] John Engler won easily.”
In the current U.S. Senate race to replace Levin, two party veterans have been duking it out via the millions of dollars spent on blistering ads with former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and Congressman Gary Peters as the focal point. The polls have had the two candidates within close range of each other for much of the summer and fall, with Peters’ lead starting to build, particularly in southeast Michigan.
Peters held a 9-percentage point lead over Land according to a statewide poll conducted for The Detroit News and WDIV (Channel 4) in September by pollster Richard Czuba, President of the Glengariff Group Inc. Peters led Land 44 percent to 35 percent in that survey of 600 likely voters, which had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points. And, 15 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.
Peters also holds a 17 percentage point lead over Land among female voters in that poll. Land is tied with Peters among male voters, 41 percent to 40 percent.
Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate race in Michigan since 1994. The National Republican Senatorial Committee just pulled their $850,000 in ads for the race in the final weeks of the contest. Still, Republicans are hoping to win six seats this fall.
Land and her supporters have spent $18 million on advertising through September, while Peters and his supporters have spent only$14 million. The Committee said it expects Land to win and decided to pull the ads as there were others spending a similar amount in Michigan. “The Peters campaign has to be able to maintain the right spending level against the Koch brothers and their spending for Land,” said Jill Alper, of Dewey Square and former strategist for Jennifer Granholm. There are some who believe Peters’ support of the Affordable Care Act will be an achilles heel with some voters. “For the Senate race it’s more about Obama and the need for checks and balances, and will there be a good reason to vote against Peters,” said Saul Anuzis, former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and GOP strategist.
Long time pundit Bill Ballenger, founder of Inside Michigan Politics said, “Each party also has to hope it’s gotten out a message that will appeal to independent/ticket splitters—they hold the balance of power. The bases of each party won’t do the job alone,” Ballenger added.
In 2006, when Granholm and DeVos squared off, the turnout was the highest it had been since 1962. “There were two good candidates, with good teams who spent a lot of money,” said Dem Chair Johnson. In 2008, buoyed by Obama running the first time, turnout was high. But it hit the skids in Michigan in 2010 when just 3.2 million voted—the lowest since 1948. “This year we’re projecting 3.5 million people going to the polls,” said Johnson.
As voters fill out absentee ballots and head to voting booths across the Great Lakes state in a few weeks, it will boil down to GOTV (e.g. “Get Out the Vote”) and which party better motivated its base.