Aug. 25 2010 12:00 AM

Sharon Ellis managed two successful campaigns against Bernero. Can she help the GOP do it again?


If you know Williamston political consultant Sharon Ellis, you know she’s a Democrat. She has no problem making that pretty clear.

In fact, on her first day working for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder, she announced to everybody in the room where her party loyalties lie. And she doesn’t bleed red.

But ever since she was introduced to Snyder’s message back in December by a mutual friend of Snyder’s, Ellis said she’s been intrigued. Snyder, the former Gateway executive and venture capitalist, is a "straight shooter" with the type of economic policies she could support.

He’s not interested in political division, she said. He wants to bring people to the table to work out issues, a quality she hasn’t seen in a Republican since the days of Gerald R. Ford and Bill Milliken.

"During the primary, I looked at the Democratic field (Virg Bernero and Andy Dillon) and neither one was my cup of Diet Coke," said Ellis, who is coordinating Democratic and independent support for Snyder. "I’ve been a Democrat all my life, but I feel very comfortable supporting Rick this time."

Ellis is not alone. Post-primary election voting put together by Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consultants show a "massive" crossover of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents participated in the Aug. 3 Democratic primary. While Snyder got only a "moderate share of their votes, rather than nearunanimous support," Grebner said the support for Snyder among these Democrats or lean Democrats is solid.

"Virtually all of Snyder’s crossovers (13 of 14) said they’d vote for him again," Grebner said. "But the crossover voters who chose other Republicans split among evenly between Snyder and Bernero for November."

Pollster Richard Czuba disagrees. He told MIRS, the Capitol news service, that Snyder may have intrigued Democrats in the primary, but to say Democrats crossing over into the Republican Party primary won the election for Snyder is a "myth," he said.

Czuba said after studying data from the Aug. 3 election and the results of a poll he conducted for the Detroit News and WDIV-TV, it was the independents who had been voting Democrat the last two cycles that won the day for Snyder.

"It’s very clear that Rick Snyder won on independent votes," Czuba said. "Independents move back and forth. For the last two cycles, they’ve swung dramatically to the Democratic Party. This election, they swung dramatically back to the Republican Party."

More than 1 million Michigan voters (1,048,384) participated in the Republican primary in August, with 381,588 of them voting for Snyder. Only 528,822, a little more than half, voted in the Democratic primary. Bernero received 309,518 votes.

Why are any Democrats attracted to Snyder? Those Democrats who support Snyder say it’s because he’s not an ideologue who is pushing some moral social agenda. He also has a rational urban and environmental agenda that focuses on stewardship and rebuilding Michigan’s urban core.

But more than his positions, Snyder brings a type of apolitical, real-world business executive approach to leadership that is based on ethics and trust, some Democrats say.

"He has the type of skill set that the state of Michigan needs," one Democrat said. "He’s able to negotiate without polarizing people. I believe he can find common ground without being disagreeable."

Ellis does have a history with Bernero, having managed Tony Benavides’ ’03 and part of his ’05 mayoral effort against Bernero. Benavides beat Bernero in both the primary and general election in ’03, but lost in ’05.

But Ellis said that this isn’t about Bernero. It’s about Snyder.

"I have known Virgil for many, many years and I suppose I have that perspective that others on this campaign do not," she said. "This is not about being anti-Virg and this is not a revenue thing. My involvement is all about pro-Snyder. I’m not going to use my hours and these weeks in my life in some grudge match."

Some people can work with candidates they don’t particular like. They do it for the check. Ellis said she doesn’t operate that way. She said she needs to be excited about the candidate, and she’s excited about working with Snyder.

Many of her Democratic friends are telling her the same thing. Of course, one of her Democrat friends is mad at her but "we’ll make up after the election." That was the one exception.

"I told myself, ’Wow.’ I’m comfortable working with this guy. I’m not alone in my little Democratic crossover," Ellis said.

"In my 20 years in politics, it’s safe to say there hasn’t been any Republican who has engendered themselves to Democrats with the exception of Joe Schwarz," referring to the former U.S. congressman and state legislator from Battle Creek.

Since jumping on as an employee, Ellis said her admiration of Snyder has only grown. He’s strong into team building and participates in the same exercises his employees take part in. She insists that everyone carries along a "values" card with them and that everyone adhere to an ethical code of commitment, focus, honesty, positivity, reliability, teamwork and "having fun."

In their first five-minute conversation, Ellis said she was blown away that Snyder said the word no less than eight times.

"I know it sounds like I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but let me tell you that as a consultant, I won’t try to sell something I won’t buy," Ellis said.

"In fact, I didn’t think I was going to take a campaign this year. But I believe in this person."