Political campaigns in 2024: Safe, scripted and … boring.


“I don’t get the hype around Curtis Hertel,” a colleague told me the other day.  

I lost my breath for a minute.  

“You don’t remember Hertel in the state Senate?” I asked. 

It was only 18 months ago. He was the guy who cut all the deals in the backroom. He made things happen. The guy who could verbally blow up anybody in a floor speech with his clever wit and cutting sense of humor. The guy with a booming, Obama-like voice who was capable of whipping up a quote-of-the-day every time he opened his mouth. 

Hertel was the guy who eagerly debated election denier Patrick Colbeck over road funding for sport ... well, to take Colbeck up on his challenge and to shut him up … but, really, for sport. 

He and Jim Ananich lead the Senate Democrats’ efforts to take control of the Senate in 2022. First time in 40 years. They raised the money. Cooked up the plan. Moved the chess pieces. 

I explained all of this to her. 

“Don’t you remember any of this?” I repeated. 

She answered me with a puzzled look on her face. 


Oh. She wasn’t in Lansing in 2022. She doesn’t know state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. I guess I needed to dig back into my memory banks for it, didn’t I? 

Last week, Hertel accepted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s endorsement over at the Lansing Shuffle in front of a small group of enthusiastic supporters. Of course, Whitmer endorsed her old legislative director, Senate colleague, East Lansing Democrat and friend of at least 25 years. 

That was automatic — kind of like Donald Trump endorsing Hertel’s opponent, Tom Barrett, this week. 

Hertel recited his prepared speech there with all the vitality of an off-the-shelf political candidate trying to win in a competitive congressional seat. 

Protecting women’s reproductive rights. Check.  

Bemoaning partisan gridlock in Washington. Check. 

Congress needs to work for the American people. Check. 

Check. Check. Check. Solid speech. Nothing is going viral. No screw ups. Nothing an opposition researcher would upload to his boss immediately. 

It's a win in that regard, I guess ... other than that the same speech could have been given by Democratic congressional candidate Kristen McDonald Rivet in Saginaw, or a congressional candidate in Pennsylvania or, well, anywhere else. 

Which gets me to my point. Democrats and Republicans in 2024 are running such top-down, bottled-up, prevent-defense campaigns in this age of social media and message distortion that political campaigns are boring. 

I’ll at least give Hertel credit for having press availability, even if it’s not the Hertel who nearly won MIRS Senator of the Year while serving in the minority. 

And where has Tom Barrett been? I saw him at Home Depot on Waverly a couple of months ago with his family. Based on their impressive campaign finance reports, I assume he’s been dialing for dollars like Hertel has obviously been doing. 

But where has Mike Rogers been? Not doing debates, I can tell you that. Where has Elissa Slotkin been? I find out about her events after the fact.  

Justin Amash is allegedly running for the U.S. Senate, but he’s in a protective bubble somewhere, literally unreachable by anybody in the media.  

Do you even know the name Sandy Pensler or Hill Harper? 

Occasionally, today’s political candidates speak to “safe” podcasters or media hosts, who get five or six minutes to quickly recite some message on a specific topic to that important constituency some political brainiac said they should reach. 

I get it. The job of politicians is to win political races. They’re not here to entertain the media or anyone else. 

But there’s no “One Tough Nerd” or “Fix the Damn Roads” going on in 2024. 

It’s a carefully crafted national script being funneled to candidates. Canned outage. No pizazz. The individuality has been sucked out of the candidates like they were created in a lab or from AI or something.  

Maybe in our new AI world, that’s the new world of politics.  

It’s a shame if that’s the case. 

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.) 


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