Lansing -- The Republican race for governor is a three-man contest two weeks before the Aug. 3 primary.
There's a virtual tie between U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland and state Attorney General Mike Cox, followed closely by Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, according to a Detroit News-Local 4 WDIV poll.
The survey of 500 likely GOP primary voters taken July 12-13 has Cox at 26.4 percent, Hoekstra at 25.6 percent and Snyder polling 20.2 percent. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard tallied 11.6 percent and state Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo was at 1.8 percent. Fourteen percent of voters are undecided.
"Hoekstra and Cox are neck and neck and Snyder has enough room in terms of building name ID and with his low unfavorable numbers (that) he could pull it off in the last couple weeks," said Richard Czuba, president of Glengariff Group Inc. of Chicago, which conducted the poll.
Betsy Fortner, 68, a retired X-ray technician from Royal Oak, said she likes Hoekstra because "he's fiscally responsible."
"He sleeps in his office rather than a hotel and flies coach to Washington. He's doing his part," the survey participant said.
Lisa Kenny, a 44-year-old small business consultant from Sandusky, said she favors Cox. "I feel very strongly about his dedication to the work he's done as attorney general," she said. "He's got a good track record."
'It's about turnout now'
While Cox fares well in the poll, his unfavorable rating among Republican voters is far higher than those of his rivals.
Cox is rated favorably by 43 percent of voters and unfavorably by 25.8 percent. Hoekstra is at 48.6 percent favorable and 10.6 percent unfavorable, while Snyder has a 35.8 percent favorable rating and a 7.8 percent unfavorable mark.
"I thought I'd go with Cox, but then I started hearing some bad-mouthing, so now I'm undecided," said Dennis Noll, 71, a retired DTE Energy customer service representative from Warren.
Ads aired earlier in the campaign by an East Coast group whose backers are unclear have gone after Cox for his handling of the investigation of an alleged party at the Manoogian Mansion when Kwame Kilpatrick was Detroit mayor. After his probe, Cox labeled the party "an urban legend."
Snyder has the support of Donna Gugle of Flint, who is concerned about the economy because "my husband's business is down to zilch."
"There's some truth and honesty in Snyder, and his business background helps," she said.
Hoekstra holds a commanding lead in his west Michigan base with 41.7 percent of the vote -- more than 25 points ahead of Snyder, his nearest competitor. Cox, who lives in Livonia, has an edge in southeastern Michigan. He's at 30 percent of the vote, 10 percentage points ahead of Bouchard and 11 points up on Hoekstra and Snyder.
"The big question is: What's the turnout going to be in west Michigan?" Czuba said. There are highly competitive races in two west Michigan congressional districts -- represented by Hoekstra and Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids -- that could drive the numbers up for Hoekstra.
"We feel very good about where we're at. It's about turnout now, who has the best ground game," said John Truscott, spokesman for the Hoekstra camp.
It's the economy ...
Though Cox has the Right to Life of Michigan endorsement, Hoekstra has a slight advantage over him among voters who are anti-abortion advocates. Cox trails Hoekstra among anti-abortion voters 29.1 percent to 26.5 percent, but he leads Hoekstra 28.7 percent to 17.9 percent among Republican voters who favor abortion rights.
Larry Galmisch, director of the Right to Life of Michigan political-action committee, said the level of support for Cox could change when the organization sends postcards this week to its 160,000 members announcing its endorsement.
The west Michigan congressman also "best reflects the values" of voters, according to the poll, which had Hoekstra at 25.6 percent, followed by Cox at 21.2 percent and Snyder at 16.8 percent. All three candidates oppose abortion. Cox and Hoekstra oppose embryonic stem cell research, while Snyder favors the research.
Asked about Cox's standing in the poll, spokesman Nick DeLeeuw played up the candidate's endorsements from Right to Life and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and added: "Voters are responding to his calls to cut spending and taxes."
The economy was named the No. 1 issue facing the state by a whopping seven in 10 voters. The state budget and taxes finished a distant second at one in 10 voters. Snyder, a businessman with no political experience, was seen as the candidate with the best plan to improve the state's economy and create jobs by 22 percent of respondents, followed by Hoekstra at 20 percent and Cox at 19.8 percent. Snyder has called for eliminating the state's unpopular business tax and replacing it with a 6 percent levy on profits. He also advocates reducing the time it takes to get a permit and reforming the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Jake Suski, spokesman for Snyder, said the campaign will attempt to extend its reach to independent and Democratic voters this week. "Rick has broad appeal to cross over and independent voters who vote in this primary," he said.
"We feel strongly we have the right strategy to win this," Suski said. He said internal polling shows Snyder and Hoekstra tied for the lead, well ahead of Cox.
Hoekstra was seen as the candidate with the best plan to balance the state budget with 20.4 percent backing, with Cox at 20 percent and Snyder at 18.6 percent. Hoekstra has called for streamlining government and bringing state employee wages and benefits in line with the private sector. Nearly two-thirds of voters say they're more likely to back a candidate who signs a pledge promising they won't raise taxes while in office. Cox, Bouchard and Hoekstra have signed such a pledge.
The margin of error in the telephone survey is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Glengariff Group is a marketing research firm with offices in Chicago and St. Joseph, Mich., and a call center in Lansing.
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The Detroit News, Local 4 team up for political polling
The Detroit News and Local 4 WDIV have entered a new partnership to present political polling and analysis this election season.
The News and Local 4 have teamed up with the Chicago-based Glengariff Group, a market research firm founded in 1998 by Richard Czuba, a former state tourism official who has a long familiarity with politics in Michigan.
Look for public opinion research and analysis on all the major candidates and issues from The News, Local 4 and the Glengariff Group through the November general election.