Feb. 8 2018 12:20 AM

Gloves coming off early in gubernatorial race

Legally, it’s possible another gubernatorial candidate could hop into the 2018 sweepstakes by the April 24 deadline, but the existing field of four Republicans and four Democrats are operating as if they are Michigan voters’ only choices.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw Dr. Jim Hines have now held joint-appearance town halls in Grand Rapids, Jackson and Saginaw without the frontrunner, Attorney General Bill Schuette.

He’s not participating because he wasn’t involved in the planning process and his campaign doesn’t feel it needs to be . . . yet. Calley and Colbeck cooked up the forums to boost their public exposure weeks after polling had Schuette’s once massive lead down to 11 points (Schuette 25, Calley 14, Hines 2, Colbeck 2, according to Mitchell Research and Communications.)

The forums also come at a time when the Attorney General has managed to receive no shortage of press for prosecuting disgraced sexual assailant Larry Nassar and investigating how Michigan State University let their former doctor get away with molesting young women for as long as he did.

Schuette’s campaign has called the “secret town halls” part of a “cloak-anddagger” primary strategy to drag down his numbers. Calley and Colbeck are questioning whether Schuette is avoiding questions, as he did during the Jan. 27 news conference in which he informally kicked off his newest MSU investigation.

On the Democratic side, the AFL-CIO launched a rare public screening process with the party’s four viable candidates -- former Ingham County Senator Gretchen Whitmer, entrepreneur and chemist Shri Thanedar, former Detroit medical director Abdul El-Sayed and retired Xerox executive Bill Cobbs.

Whitmer’s primary opponents -- like Schuette’s -- are dogging her for not tackling MSU’s sexual assault issues sooner. Whitmer filled in as Ingham County prosecutor for six months in 2016. Still, she’s gobbling up union endorsements like Mrs. Pac-Man, making her the clear Democraticfrontrunner at this point.

El-Sayed’s balloon is deflating among the progressive Bernie Sanders crowd after Bridge Magazine reported that he was registered to vote in New York in 2015. That may violate the constitutional requirement that he be a “registered elector for four years” before Election Day.

The deep-pocketed Thanedar is the only Michigan gubernatorial candidate to spend money on a (admittedly funny) television ad during the Super Bowl, but he’ll need to buy a following like Gov. Rick Snyder did eight years ago. He, like Snyder, also needs to get more comfortable answering public questions not related to his compelling personal story. He struggled to connect at the first AFL-CIO forum, but he’ll have two more to improve.

Cobbs’ commanding voice and vision drew comparisons to Morgan Freeman during the Warren forum, but the $3,275 he had in his gubernatorial account as of Jan. 1 is less than 146 state House candidates.

Money isn’t a problem for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow. The $8 million she has in the bank is chasing away Republican money and their supporters to other potentially competitive states. Business executive Sandy Pensler said he’s willing to spend at least $5 million of his own fortune, but he’ll need to do better than his bland, forgettable “Super Bowlish” ad.

Republican are gushing over Republican Senate hopeful John James’ profile as a combat veteran, young father and African- American conservative business executive. But he’s going to need National Republican Senate Campaign Committee help and there’s no shortage of GOP hopefuls across the country with their hands out for that.

Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard seems to be outflanking Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker in the race for that party’s Attorney General nomination, but that race is still six months away from being decided.

The R’s alternative is Eastern Michigan University Trustee Mary Treder Lang, but she’s largely unknown outside of the country club Republican-types.

With Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina taking a pass on a Supreme Court run, Democrats still lack a top-tier candidate to take on Gov. Snyder appointees Kurtis Wilder and Beth Clement.

Democrats have no shortage of judges and attorneys willing to give the high court a shot. The question is how much money they’re willing to sink into a candidate without money or resources when Democraticnominated Justices Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein are proving to be quite effective in a 5-2 minority.

For Michigan State University Board of Trustees -- Republican incumbents Mitch Lyons and Brian Breslin aren’t running again and Dave Dutch and William Deary are running as a tag team for the GOP nomination, even though Lt. Gov. Brian Calley would rather see a Nassar survivor run.

Things are more muddled on the Democratic side with MSU journalism professor Sue Carter, pollster Dennis Denno, former lottery commissioner Scott Bowen, AFL-CIO official Daryl Newman and Teri Bernero, wife of former Lansing mayor Virg Bernero all talking to the various interest groups.

In the Eaton/Clinton county-based 24th Senate District, Democrat Kelly Rossman- McKinney is knocking it out of the park with her $150,000 in cash on hand. Among the 115 or so state Senate candidates (incumbent and non-incumbents included) with campaign committees, only five have more money available than the well-known public relations business owner.