Lansing -- House Speaker Andy Dillon holds a nine-point lead over Virg Bernero in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor, according to a Detroit News-Local 4 WDIV poll released Monday.
That puts the Lansing mayor, who has trailed by double digits in other recent surveys, within striking distance. Dillon is favored by 34.3 percent of Democratic primary voters polled by Glengariff Group Inc., while 25.1 percent said they support Bernero.
"The largest wild card in this primary is the massive amount of undecided voters so close to the election," Glengariff's Richard Czuba said.
The poll of 400 likely voters found 39.5 percent are undecided two weeks before the Aug. 3 primary election.
Bernero can pull it out if labor support mobilizes to boost his name recognition, Czuba said.
The two candidates are knotted at 28 percent among voters from union households, a troubling sign for Bernero, who has been endorsed by the Michigan AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, the Michigan Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other labor groups.
Bernero is counting on labor to get out the vote and to foot the bill for much of his campaign. The Genesee County Democratic Party, using money channeled to them by union supporters, has run the only Bernero TV ads.
Doug Pratt, spokesman for the MEA, said the union is ramping up its efforts for Bernero.
"We're working to see that our membership is fully informed of our endorsement and they, in turn, are talking to their family members and neighbors," he said.
Michigan AFL-CIO officials have said union members are knocking on doors, handing out literature and making calls on Bernero's behalf.
But it's not a clean sweep of labor backing for Bernero. Dillon is endorsed by the Michigan Teamsters, the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, the Michigan Police Officers Association and others.
"There is enough of a split in the labor community that Dillon is holding his own," Czuba said.
Bernero trails in recognition
To win, Bernero also will have to convert undecided voters, Czuba said. The survey shows 44 percent of respondents have never heard of Bernero, while 26 percent don't know Dillon.
"If Bernero can boost his name ID in the last two weeks he's in the ballgame," Czuba said.
Poll participant Clarence Hauk, an undecided Democrat from South Lyon, said: "I'll be looking for the Democratic candidate who can get things done, not fight with Republicans all the time."
Cheryll Ropke, a 66-year-old retired teacher from Grosse Pointe Farms, is a Bernero backer.
"I'm hoping he can do for the state what he's done for Lansing," she said. "And I don't like some of the compromises Dillon has made in the Legislature. He's not as progressive as I would like."
Joshua Wright, 34, of Royal Oak said he's leaning toward Dillon because "he's the House speaker. He has been around state government and that will help him get things accomplished."
The House speaker has a decided edge among non-union households, 38 percent to 24 percent. Dillon has a 14 percentage point lead among moderate voters, 37 percent to 23 percent, but a narrower edge among liberal voters, 33 percent to 30 percent. Dillon is running as a centrist, coalition builder. Bernero is pursuing the traditional left-leaning Democrats.
"Which group of Democrats do you think will vote in the primary?" Bernero asked, indicating liberals and progressives are more likely to turn out. The mayor said the nine-point spread after recent polls showed him trailing by 15-20 points signals his union ground forces are helping him close the gap.
T.J. Bucholz, spokesman for Dillon, said: "We're pleased with our lead, which has been consistent, but we're taking nothing for granted. Clearly, Virg Bernero's negative campaign strategy doesn't seem to be working. Voters are looking for innovative ideas to solve Michigan's economic challenges."
Candidates carve out turf
Dillon has a 19-point advantage over Bernero in Metro Detroit, 41 percent to 22 percent, and a 7-point margin in northern Michigan, while Bernero is ahead in the other parts of the state, most notably his mid-Michigan home turf where he has a 50 percent to 23 percent lead.
The speaker has a "commanding lead" among African-American voters, 36 percent to 16 percent, Czuba said. He attributed that partly to Dillon's higher name recognition in Detroit. The speaker is from Redford Township, a Wayne County suburb.
Charles Bullock, a 58-year-old African-American voter from Detroit, said he prefers Dillon because "he's been a businessman, so I think he'll bring more jobs to the state than the mayor of Lansing. It's all about jobs. I want a governor who will bring business into the city and the state."
Bernero has a 21 percent favorable rating against 6 percent unfavorable, while 73 percent have no opinion or never heard of him.
Dillon has a 27 percent favorable mark against 14 percent unfavorable, and 59 percent have no opinion or don't know him.
About half of the respondents could not say which candidate has the best plan to create jobs, improve education, balance the state budget or fix the economy.
"With (two weeks) remaining in the primary race, Democratic candidates have the challenge of introducing themselves to voters as well as trying to relay their positions," Czuba said.
The margin of error of the telephone survey taken July 12-13 is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
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.