Is Michigan’s GOP Gov Ducking His Party’s Struggling Senate Candidate?

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been one of the shining stars of the 2010’s Republican gubernatorial class. He has scored conservative victories like controversial right-to-work legislation, but he’s also tacked toward the center on other issues like Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Terri Lynn Land served eight years as Michigan secretary of state, a well-liked political insider with an excellent paper resume for a Senate candidacy. She is one of the key cogs in the GOP’s efforts to turn the the upper chamber over this fall.

They sound like natural allies. So where’s the love? Snyder’s campaign wouldn’t discuss their relationship. Land’s campaign initially told TPM that the candidates would appear together at an event this Saturday, but then reversed, saying it had been a mistake. It’s all a bit inexplicable as Republicans look to score important electoral victories in a state that tends to go blue when the races are statewide.

“Detached.” That was the word of choice when Michigan political observers were asked by TPM about the relationship between Land and Snyder.

Their campaign appearances so far can be a little tough to pin down. The Land campaign pointed to a recent appearance in Traverse City, in an apparent reference to the National Cherry Festival last month, though it didn’t respond when asked if Land and Snyder had actually appeared at the same place at the same time. The Land campaign also pledged “multiple joint events” in the future despite the Saturday event mix-up.

“Terri Lynn Land and Governor Snyder are committed to moving the state forward,” the Land campaign said in a statement. The Snyder campaign declined to comment on the record.

Bill Ballenger, a former GOP state legislator and long-time political analyst at Inside Michigan Politics, contrasted the Land-Snyder relationship with another incumbent GOP governor who helped a fellow Republican snag an open Senate seat 20 years ago.

Then-Gov. John Engler handpicked Spencer Abraham to run alongside him in 1994 for Michigan’s Senate seat, and the pair appeared together constantly on the campaign trail. Engler won re-election with a resounding 62 percent of the vote, while Abraham took 52 percent and an improbable spot in the Senate, one he would lose six years later to Debbie Stabenow with an Engler-less ballot.

“Engler did everything he could to help Spencer Abraham. They were the opposite of Snyder and Land,” Ballenger said. “She’s just not somebody who’s going to underscore his strengths. She’s not a soul mate. When you had Engler and Abraham, you had two guys who were everything wrapped up into two. In Snyder and Land, you’ve got a bifurcation. Just a totally different situation.”

Land’s campaign has lost some steam after an initially strong showing against Democratic candidate Rep. Gary Peters. She trails Peters by an 1.8 percentage points, according to TPM’s PollTracker average, a reversal of Land’s lead at the start of the year. Snyder, for his part, was widely viewed as a favorite for re-election, but his race against former Rep. Mark Schauer has also tightened. He holds a 2.5 percentage-point lead, per PollTracker, down from a nearly 10-point lead he had a few months ago.

Snyder and Land are categorically different political beasts, Ballenger said, which might help explain the perceived distance between their campaigns. She has been a party insider since college, most recently serving as the Michigan representative for the Republican National Committee. Snyder, however, prides himself on his “one tough nerd” persona and political outsider status — governor is the first elected office he’s held.

They also never served in state government together. Land left her secretary of state post just as Snyder became governor and had actually run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with one of Snyder’s 2010 GOP primary opponents, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, who placed fourth out of five candidates.

Within that context, a tightening race for Snyder would give him even “less incentive” to appear alongside Land, Michael Traugott, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, told TPM.

“He’s still trying to maintain the impression of a relatively independent Republican, so I’m not really surprised that he hasn’t jumped into the Senate campaign,” he said. “Especially because of concerns about the strength of her candidacy. He’s been quite cautious about trying to organize some kind of unified Republican campaign.”

National Journal documented last week the growing GOP concerns about the Land candidacy. She’s developed a reputation within the media as a policy-lite candidate who ducks tough questions. Questions have been raised about her campaign financing. A number of in-state political observers, including Ballenger, believe she is effectively banking on a national Republican wave to carry her into the Senate by keeping a low profile, repeating the general GOP talking points and not taking risky policy positions.

That, again, runs counters to the Snyder approach. He seems consciously disinterested in partisan messaging and has so far mostly eschewed traditional campaigning. So Ballenger said that he was unsurprised that the Land campaign seemed more eager to draw connections between the two, while Snyder’s people did not want to comment on the campaigns’ relationship.

“If you ask the two campaigns, ‘How are you getting along, are you going to do things together?,’ you can imagine Land and her campaign are going to be forthcoming than Snyder because they’re talking about politics,” Ballenger said. “Snyder and his people, they’re not going to say anything.”

“Land obviously realizes, ‘I want to give the impression to everybody that the governor and I get along fine.’ There’s an upside for her,” he continued. “For him, I think you could ask: why would Snyder want to associate himself with her?”

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