Mackinac Island — Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a former congresswoman who was encouraged to run for governor in 2018, is instead backing Attorney General Bill Schuette for the job.
“I think he’s the right guy at the right time for Michigan,” Miller said Saturday at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, where she was wearing a Bill Schuette for governor sticker on the porch of the historic Grand Hotel.
Miller said Schuette’s campaign pledge to be a “jobs governor” is especially appealing in blue-collar areas like Macomb County. She also praised his push for a plan to eventually shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
“For all kinds of reasons, I just think he’s our strongest candidate,” she said, “and I think he’s actually going to be the next governor.”
Schuette, a Midland Republican, is the early front-runner for the GOP nomination to replace term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder. He faces competition from state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township, a tea party favorite, and Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Portland is also considering a run for governor but is planning a statewide town hall tour in October and November before making a final decision.
Miller said she has “very high regard” for Calley but does not think he could win the Republican primary over Schuette, who last weekend won the endorsement of Republican President Donald Trump.
“Just coming from my neck of the woods, Trump tweeting for Bill Schuette, I mean you can never say the race is over, but I don’t see a path there for (Calley),” she said. “I think that’s enormous in the Republican primary.”
Schuette touted his relationship with the president on Saturday at the biennial GOP confab and appeared to take a shot at Calley when he knocked Republicans who “bailed” on Trump during the 2016 election.
“The president knows who was with him and who bailed and who jumped ship and who deserted him,” Schuette told The Detroit News. “I wanted to beat Hillary Clinton, and indeed we did, and we elected Donald Trump and we have a Republican president.”
Calley renounced his general election support for Trump in early October after tapes surfaced showing the New York businessman making vulgar and sexually-charged comments about women in 2005.
Schuette also criticized Trump’s comments, saying at the time that objectifying women or treating them as conquests is “unacceptable,” but he stuck with Trump and remained one of his highest-profile Michigan supporters in the run-up to the November election.
Speaking to a lunch crowd of GOP donors and activists on Saturday, Schuette said he has had multiple discussions about the importance of Michigan with Trump, both in the Oval Office and on the phone. He visited the White House in February.
“He knows that I rode the brand and I supported him and made sure we beat Hillary Clinton,” Schuette said.
Asked later if he was referencing Calley in his lunch speech, Schuette told The News “you can draw your own conclusions.”
Calley ended up voting for Trump in November and said Friday a “lot of Republicans took different paths to get to that point.” He said he was not surprised the president endorsed Schuette.
“I’ve always been a Republican, but I don’t ride for the brand,” Calley said. “I ride for the people of the state of Michigan. I ride for their best interest.”
Calley’s history with Trump and the president’s endorsement of Schuette will flavor the GOP primary but will not be the deciding factor, said former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis.
“There are a lot of party loyalists and others who will be upset with the fact someone didn’t support our nominee,” he said. “That could be an issue with some people, but that’s not going to be the driving issue.”
And Democrats could try to use the Trump endorsement against Schuette if the president’s popularity is low next year, Anuzis added.
“I would,” he said. “I’m not sure how relevant it will be, but of course they will be. We don’t know where the president’s going to poll at the time and what the circumstances are going to be.”
Democrats seeking their party’s nomination include former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, former Detroit health department director Abdul El-Sayed, Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar and former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs.
With a Republican in the White House, Schuette said it would be important for a Republican governor to have a good relationship with the president as they work to “have more jobs in Michigan.”
“The fact is I’m going to be the jobs governor, and my one singular ambition and desire is to make Michigan a jobs state,” Schuette said.
Trump spelled Schuette’s last name wrong in his initial endorsement but corrected it the following morning in a subsequent tweet. Schuette said he was not bothered by the mistake.
“Actually I thought it was great,” he said. “I got two (tweets). I looked at it as a bonus.”