Sept. 8 2010 12:00 AM

Rick Snyder finds glossy-eyed support at the Wolverines’ home opener

ANN ARBOR — On occasional late summer and early autumn Saturdays in this town, thousands upon thousands of people gather in maize and blue clothes to drink some beer, grill meat and watch two football teams clobber each other. Most political conversations here on these days are probably futile and easily forgotten.

But not far from the main entrance of the newly refurbished Michigan Stadium on Saturday — inconspicuously parked among other RVs — was the Nerd Mobile and traveling symbol of Michigan’s biggest political conversation: the governor’s race.

With a blue-and-white checked Polo shirt tucked into his blue jeans, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder greeted a mix of children, college students and adults as they made their way past his tailgate. I smiled as the visibly drunk people greeted Snyder:

“You’ve got my vote, man.”

“Go get ‘em, Rick.”

“Rick Michigan!”

“These are good, Michigan people,” Snyder said looking about the crowd. “This has been a great way to meet all these wonderful people.”

In a hectic scene like U of M football Saturday, Snyder maintains his positive message. Together with being the Republican candidate from one of the most liberal pockets of Michigan, Snyder said it is part of his apolitical image. Snyder is an Ann Arbor resident with an undergraduate degree, an MBA and a J.D. from U of M.

“People spend too much time thinking about labels,” he said about being a Republican headquartered in Ann Arbor. “It speaks to that old divisiveness. We are reinventing our state.”

That’s not to say it has been all peaches and cream for Republicans since the Aug. 3 primary. Snyder reportedly played middleman at the Republican Party Convention in East Lansing recently after tea party-backed opposition called to question his choice of Rep. Brian Calley for lieutenant governor.

Snyder shrugs off allegations that the convention was a fiasco. “Brian Calley is an outstanding lieutenant governor nominee,” he said.

Snyder also claims to have not seen the Michigan GOP’s YouTube attack ad on Democratic candidate Virg Bernero’s mayoral record called “Pure Lansing.” In it, graphics and images paint a Flint-like Lansing, emphasizing foreclosures and unemployment, with Bernero to blame. Some local Republicans were offended by the ad and said it misrepresented Lansing regardless of how Bernero came off in it.

Snyder’s spokesman Bill Nowling saw it, though. “It missed the mark a little bit. Political parties do what they do, they don’t consult us first,” said Nowling, who accompanied Snyder on the tailgating outing. As for the ad itself, Nowling said it’s “fair game. Especially when he (Bernero) is taking credit for job creation.”

If Snyder is new to the political game, he at least has mastered the rhetoric. When asked about Bernero’s plan to pull state money out of major banks on Wall Street to invest it in Michigan-based banks, Snyder didn’t pan it, nor did he support it.

“I think I’d talk to the banks first. We have to be careful how we communicate so we don’t drive business out of the state,” he said.

Snyder announced a union endorsement Monday from the Michigan Carpenters and Millwrights and has his own 10-point plan to “Reinvent Michigan.” Around the stadium, Snyder had more support than Bernero, based on a highly unscientific survey of 10 people: Nine were for Snyder, while one Democrat said he hadn’t made up his mind yet.

Tom Charboneau’s tailgate was “randomly” parked next to Snyder’s on Saturday. Charboneau is from Northville and owns a distribution company. The economy has been his main issue for about eight years, he said while smoking a cigar and drinking a can of Labatt Blue Light.

“I like the prospects of Rick instead of the current administration,” he said. “I see myself voting for him — he knows business.”

Charboneau thinks Bernero’s idea about divesting in Wall Street is “bad policy. It’s like a boycott, and when politicians say a thing like that, it drives businesses away.”

Closer to the main entrance, Ted Wright was finishing a can of Bud Light with his friend before going into the game. Wright is middle-aged and an employee at GE Aviation in Grand Rapids, an airplane engineering offshoot of General Electric. He said he will vote for Snyder, but still has healthy skepticism of both candidates and the political system.

“He (Snyder) had his success in an economy that was good, but he would have to legislate in a pisspoor economy,” Wright said. “I don’t know.”

He added that the economy is “everyone’s issue,” but just because politicians step up and say they will create jobs doesn’t make it true or even possible.

“Business owners create jobs. Politicians don’t,” Wright said. “Henry Ford created jobs. How is Rick Snyder going to create jobs?”

Wright is more concerned about U of M having a winning football season than he is anything politicians promise. Jobs will come back, but U of M head football coach Rich Rodriguez has lost the “respect factor,” he said.

There must be some anti-Snyder sentiment in this town, I thought while walking from the stadium to the quieter Kerrytown district. Two men were drinking coffee and smoking Pall Mall cigarettes outside People’s Food Coop on Fourth Street.

Dylan Manna, a U of M Ph.D. student in physics who has lived in Ann Arbor for more than a decade, was one of them. Would he care to talk politics, particularly about Rick Snyder?

“That asshole?” Manna asked. “Sure, why not?” Manna and his friend Eric Hill, a film student at Washtenaw Community College, said politicians’ stances on social issues tell more about them than any economic promises they make. It seems Snyder’s views on abortion (opposed, except in cases of rape or incest) distance him from both right-to-lifers and social liberals.

“He’s still anti-abortion, so fuck him,” Manna said. “Why is any old man telling a woman what to do?” Hill, who just started fall semester, said his film class professor urged the class not to vote for Rick Snyder because he is rumored to support ending tax incentives for films set in Michigan.

“That’s how I first heard about Rick Snyder,” Hill said. “They (the incentives) may not be creating jobs, but it means money is being spent here.”

Manna said although Snyder has support in Ann Arbor, there is still “some element” of the community he has to win over.

As a businessman, Snyder has been subjected to less public scrutiny than Bernero, Manna said. On top of that, he thinks his town is changing from the more romanticized perception of Ann Arbor.

“This town is not as liberal is it once was,” he said.