June 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Why not Snyder in 2016?

Gov. Rick Snyder has come a long way since 2011, but has he come far enough to be a presidential contender in 2016? (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

For a guy who’s played very little on the national stage, Gov. Rick Snyder is picking up surprising looks as a possible Republican presidential contender.

Credit his so-far masterful handling of the Detroit bankruptcy for lifting the governor’s profile. Lately, every time Snyder’s name is mentioned in the national media, it’s followed by the words, “a potential candidate for president in 2016.”

Snyder has passively fueled the speculation by not denying an interest, while not confirming it either. And he’d have to be handicapped as a long shot if he did get in the race.

But a country weary of inept ideologues at its helm might rally to a pragmatic problem solver with a record of getting the job done in a state that was nearly as screwed up when he took over as the nation is today.

“Absolutely he’s a viable candidate,” says Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell. “He’s a Republican governor from a swing state — if he wins reelection this fall by eight or 10 points, he’ll be an attractive option.”

Snyder has an edge over other GOP governors, such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio, in that his stature has risen with exposure. Snyder has grown very well into his office. He’s still not a true politician, but he has become more politically astute.

He’s also gained leadership weight. He’s not so much the deferential, goofy nerd who came into the office. He understands now he’s the most important person in the room. And while he’s not pretentious, he seems to better recognize the power of his position.

Mitchell says Snyder’s pragmatism would have strong appeal to independents. This is the governor who signed both right to work and a minimum wage hike, who adopted both Obamacare exchanges and sizable business tax breaks.

And while we in Michigan may find his “relentless positive action” mantra growing a little quaint, a national audience may see it as a fresh approach. Snyder has never engaged in partisan attacks, never blamed his predecessor for anything. He is where Americans are in terms of searching the middle for answers to intractable problems.

Those strengths may also be weaknesses in a GOP primary process controlled by more conservative elements. Also, Snyder is not a dynamic campaigner, and is no great orator. In a never-ending presidential election cycle, he’s a little behind getting started.

While the governor has visited some of the party’s large donors, who are said to be impressed, he hasn’t made the requisite early bird trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Before he gets grander visions, Snyder must win reelection. There’s some concern because he hasn’t topped 50 percent in the polls against an insignificant opponent. The Democratic Governors Association, sensing weakness, has reserved $6 million in Michigan television time for the fall.

His low-key demeanor and limited name recognition may make him more suitable for the vice-presidential spot on the ticket.

But with Michigan being a very important electoral state, and Snyder being a very successful GOP governor of that state, don’t count anything out.

nfinley@detroitnews.com
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