Oct. 6 2010 12:00 AM

Bernero got his debate — how will he use it Sunday and who will be watching?

Wednesday, Oct. 6 — Democrat Virg Bernero may have his last realistic chance this weekend when he debates Rick Snyder to turn things around in the governor’s race. But who will actually watch?

Local public broadcasting station WKAR is the only local television station airing the debate, while WLNS Channel 6 will stream it live on its website (due to professional football commitments). The local Fox and NBC affiliates also are showing football, while ABC-affiliate WLAJ scheduled “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Unfortunately for Bernero, experts believe the scheduling fits perfectly with Republican Snyder’s campaign strategy.

“He is like the boy in the bubble,” Democratic political consultant Joe DiSano said, referring to Snyder.

DiSano believes that whoever picks up the most newsworthy sound bite for the 11 o’clock news will win the debate. “That’s where the impact of this debate is,” he said.

But really, what will we see from Bernero? Will it be the same “five-balanced-budgets” and “Wall Street fat cats” rhetoric we heard all summer? Or will the Bernero camp pull something unexpected?

DiSano said to expect “Virg to be Virg” and attempt to pin Snyder down on specifics about his plans as potential governor. An opening for Bernero may happen if he can get feisty with Snyder.

DiSano mentioned Snyder’s campaign message to clean up inefficiencies in state government but that he hasn’t given specifics on how he will do so. “Snyder needs to stay about the fray and not get caught in the give-and-take with Bernero,” he said.

Bernero seemingly
wanted 600 debates before the General Election, while Snyder wanted
none. Democratic political consultant Kelly Johnston said the
one-debate compromise is Bernero’s big shot to gain any serious ground
before Nov. 2. (An internal poll by the Bernero campaign that ended
recently still had him down 12 points).

“This debate puts more pressure (on Bernero) to do the right things,”
Johnston said, than there is pressure on Snyder to not screw up.
“Snyder can certainly be much safer in how he comes across than Virg.
He has a lot more at stake than Rick Snyder.”

An upside for Bernero is that he is used to being in these situations politically, Johnston said.

The bottom line is that Snyder comes into Sunday’s debate with the advantage. Bernero has to prove himself, and Snyder was fortunate to get away with Bernero only having one shot to do so.

“The underdog needs every opportunity to show voters you are confident. When you’re as far ahead (as Snyder), you want to limit those opportunities,” Johnston said. “With a big lead, all you can do is hurt yourself.”

The one-hour debate is scheduled for Sunday at 7 p.m. in Wixom. It is hosted by the Center for Michigan, which calls itself a “think-and-do tank” nonprofit trying to bring a new awareness to state politics.

Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley, editorial page editors for the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, respectively, will moderate the debate. It will be streamed live on the Center’s website and also replayed on Detroit public television.

In other election news, Snyder was to be in south Lansing today to announce more law enforcement support. The Fraternal Order of Police, which is nearly 100 years old and includes 310,000 members, will endorse Snyder today. The Michigan chapter is more than 70 years old with 12,500 members. On Sept. 22, Snyder earned the backing by the Police Officers Association of Michigan.