Snyder's 2014 problem

By Walt Sorg

An incumbent usually has a big advantage going into a reelection cycle, but there are many reasons to believe 2014 will be the exception to that electoral rule.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s reelection has a basic problem: He doesn’t have an energized core constituency beyond business CEOs who can provide him with lots of campaign money but who don’t represent many actual votes.

Last week’s open letter from tea party activists highlights Snyder’s up-until-now underreported reality: He effectively became governor in 2010 by default. He was elected on an “I’m not Granholm” platform, never inspiring the true believers in the GOP.

Last week, tea party activists publicly urged conservatives to sit out next year’s election, calling Snyder’s (apparently successful) embrace of Medicaid expansion “the proverbial straw that has broken the camel’s back for grassroots activists and in no way represents Conservatives nor the GOP platform.”

The tea party has never fully embraced Snyder. He won the 2010 GOP primary without them, receiving just 24 percent of the vote as four tea-loving wannabes split 76 percent of the vote. That works out to 382,000 votes — in a state of 10 million people — to win the primary. He’ll need around 1.75 million to 2 million votes to win reelection.

The Great Recession, coupled with Granholm fatigue after Michigan’s “lost decade,” virtually guaranteed a Republican win. Democrats made it easier with an inept effort in support of Virg Bernero. Snyder won 58 percent to 40 percent.

In 2010, 44 percent of voters self-identified as Republicans in exit polling. Other election results showed that the 2010 GOP sweep wasn’t a shift in statewide politics, but rather a function of voter turnout: Democrats simply stayed home.

Locally, former state Rep. Barb Byrum, who represented one of Michigan’s few competitive state House districts, saw her 2008 victory margin of nearly 14,000 votes drop to 1,861 in 2010, completely the result of Democrats not voting.

Snyder’s likely 2014 opponent for governor, Mark Schauer, was knocked out of Congress by Tim Walberg when voter turnout in the 7th Congressional District dropped a whopping 30 percent. Schauer was the winner of the normally determinative independent vote, but Democrats stayed home in droves.

As we approach 2014, the political winds have shifted in several ways, none of them favorable to Snyder:

• Michigan is a blue-leaning state. Two years after the 2010 GOP tsunami, Barack Obama was victorious in Mitt Romney’s home state by 450,000 votes. Democrats have a 39 percent to 36 percent advantage in party leanings, with 25 percent calling themselves independents.

• In 2010, candidate Snyder won independent voters by a 4-1 margin according to EPIC/MRA exit polling. In 2013, EPIC/MRA shows Snyder is hugely unpopular among independent voters with his job approval underwater at 36 percent to 59 percent. A Republican can’t win without winning a strong majority of Michigan’s self-identified independents.

• As previously noted, Snyder has alienated a core GOP constituency that never loved him anyway: the tea party wing. EPIC/MRA shows 12 percent of voters “strongly supporting” the tea party movement. If he loses them, Snyder loses the election.

• On issue after issue, Snyder’s policies are unpopular: transportation funding, pension tax increase, business tax cuts, K-12 budget cuts, higher education budget cuts and the K-12 “skunk works” proposals all poll poorly.

• Snyder faces a no-win situation on the issues of expanding LGBT rights and marriage equality. Both have majority support from independents but are toxic among conservative Republicans.

• The race to replace Carl Levin in the U.S. Senate will likely boost 2014 voter turnout, and that’s never good news for Michigan Republicans. Michigan hasn’t voted red for the U.S. Senate since Spencer Abraham won 20 years ago. He lost to Debbie Stabenow six years later.

Probably the worst political reality for Snyder is the simple fact that Democrats believe in their hearts that they can win. People who feel that way are more likely to vote. Throw in tea party apathy/hostility and Snyder has a major problem.

Working in his favor is virtually unlimited money backing his reelection, most coming from shadow groups secretly funded by (it is assumed) the right-wing money machine led by the Koch brothers. But money can only do so much. There is a finite amount of TV advertising time available, and a lot of it will be purchased for the U.S. Senate race. Expect to see a load of cash dumped on early-in-the-year attack ads aimed at Schauer, all funded by secretive third-party groups.

Even the money advantage may be a mixed blessing for the governor. It will reinforce Democrats’ claim that Snyder is the candidate of the uber-wealthy. That message sank Mitt Romney and could haunt Snyder in 2014.