Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

The youth vote: Bernero’s last ace in the hole?

Wednesday, Oct. 20 — It’s been nearly three months since Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero’s primary election victory, which pitted him against Republican Rick Snyder.

An EPIC-MRA poll from Aug. 26 had Bernero 22 points behind Snyder. If you fast forward to now and ask yourself, “Where does Bernero stand?” the answer is a flat, “Nowhere new,” as evidenced by an Oct. 17 Rasmussen poll of likely voters that shows Snyder 20 points ahead of Bernero, 54 percent to 34 percent. In fact, Bernero has slipped in Rasmussen’s research: Last month, he trailed Snyder by 13 points, 51 to 38.

“Comparing the polls post-primary to now, there has been very little movement,” said Joe DiSano, a Lansing-based Democratic political consultant.

Yet DiSano says the jig is not completely up for Bernero. He said the hidden, under-reported positive for Bernero is a discounted youth vote.

This block of voters are being undersampled in polls because most of them don’t own landline telephones, he said.

There is a concerted effort nationwide to try and get these voters to the booths on Election Day. “If that effort is successful, you might see Democrats win races you didn’t otherwise expect,” DiSano said.

“It’s the key question — can the under-the-radar effort to turn out the youth vote rebuild the (Democratic) Obama coalition?” DiSano asked. “The question if it’s impressionable or not remains to be seen.”

The television might also help Bernero on the home stretch.

DiSano pointed to the Democrats’ funding of television ads up to this point. The Detroit Free Press reported that Bernero’s ad spending was $1.3 million more compared to his opponents’ in September — $3.4 million to $2.1 million.

Positive news out of Lansing probably won’t have much of an impact for Bernero, though, DiSano said.

Even though Lansing was just placed in the top 10 nationwide in a Milken Institute study of regions showing strong jobs gains, and Bernero’s announcement of an economic plan with major, former Republican Gov. John Engler-esque tax breaks for businesses, both of those are going under the media radar, DiSano said.

But he’s not throwing in the cards yet on Bernero, hoping for a “coalesced” Democratic base and ad funding for Bernero.

“Virg has been heavily funded — I wouldn’t say it’s too little too late,” he said.

Obstacles remain

However, the odds against Bernero are much more pronounced. The most glaring albatross around his neck — one of a few, DiSano said — is the 20-point disparity between him and Snyder.

This is also a “wave election” year, and Democrats are going through the same climate Republicans experienced in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Instead of anti-Bush, it’s anti-Obama and anti-Granholm, DiSano said.

”You live by the wave, and you die by the wave,” he said, adding that a late-breaking surge similar to what Engler did to incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard in 1990 is unlikely.

Bernero would have to close the gap by a different model than 1990, DiSano said.

With 13 days left before the General Election, he said leaders of the Democratic Party have some tough decisions to make — and fast.

“The next few days will be critical,” he said, by deciding what state races will get money thrown behind them in the last push to Nov. 2: the races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general or House of Representatives seats.

“If Democrats try and win all of these races, they are doomed to lose all of them,” he said.