Democrats in Michigan are pointing to Virginia’s recent statewide electoral victories — where Democrat Ralph Northam was elected governor largely for campaigning against President Donald Trump — as evidence that the political fortunes in 2018 favor them. Some are looking at what happened in Virginia as a reading of the political tea leaves, and a possible gubernatorial campaign strategy to use after eight years of Republican control of the governorship.
But Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette’s campaign is saying not so fast. The campaign has a message for anyone who thinks Virginia could repeat itself here: Think again.
Schuette, who is currently the most prominent Republican running for governor in 2018 and has already been endorsed by Trump, doesn’t seem to be worried about the results from Virginia. He is standing with Trump, whose surprise win in Michigan last year made him the first Republican presidential candidate to take the state since 1988.
“Virginia is a blue state with no Republican state victories since 2009. Virginia and Michigan are apples and oranges also because Michigan’s issues are focused on family, economic insecurity and jobs,” said Bridget Bush, press secretary for Schuette’s campaign. “Michigan families have felt some recovery but we need to take our economy higher and to all parts of our state, urban, suburban and rural.
“President Trump won Michigan because of his focus on jobs and Bill will absolutely work closely with him to boost our economy, including skilled trades that don’t require a college degree.”
Trump embraced Schuette in a Twitter post in September saying: “Attorney General Bill Schuette will be a fantastic governor for the great state of Michigan. I am bringing back your jobs and Bill will help.”
Schuette would later respond in kind: “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for your strong support. Working together, Michigan will start winning again with more jobs, growth & paychecks.”
Despite all the issues facing Michigan, the overarching question remains whether the governor’s race will be a referendum on Trump and his leadership.
The gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Gretchen Whitmer seems to think so. “Americans are alarmed when you threaten to raise the cost of health care, eliminate coverage for millions of Americans and raise taxes on middle class families to give huge tax cuts to the most wealthy. It should come as a surprise to no one that in the first major statewide elections of the Trump era, Americans showed up in record-shattering numbers to make their voices heard,” said Annie Ellison, spokeswoman for Whitmer.
“Democrats and independent-minded voters are clearly concerned about Republican threats to health care, and chose candidates they believed would fight for them, who had real ideas about creating jobs and moving the economy forward.”
Ellison, signaled part of their campaign strategy will be to link Schuette with Trump.
“If Bill Schuette is going to carry Donald Trump’s water when it comes to raising the cost of health care, raising taxes on middle class families and annihilating the programs that protect our Great Lakes, then Gretchen Whitmer’s going to stand up to them,” Ellison said. “What Gretchen is hearing as she gets around the state is that Michiganders want someone who’s in their corner, who will protect their access to affordable health care and who will fight for them to get into a high-wage job so they can support their families.”
The Affordable Care Act could be an issue as thousands of state residents stand to lose coverage if the law is gutted.
That issue was a factor in the Virginia governor’s race, where Northam, the governor-elect railed against Trump’s actions toward the Affordable Care Act.
“Virginians are already suffering from President Trump’s efforts to sabotage our health care — and in the coming months, thousands in our commonwealth are set to lose their health insurance. Health care is a right — and our leaders must stop playing political games and come together to build upon and improve the Affordable Care Act,” Northam said. “That’s why I strongly support expanding Medicaid and ensuring that 400,000 Virginians have health care and why I have urged our leaders in Washington, D.C., to come together to improve and build on the Affordable Care Act — not gut it.”
As the Affordable Care Act and other issues play out in Michigan’s gubernatorial contest, Diane McBroom, managing partner at DMC Strategies, a Detroit-based public affairs group, says what happened in Virginia should not be easily dismissed.
“Virginia’s state elections were fortuitously timed to take advantage of Trump’s historically low negatives. Going into next year, one thing is certain: that the national political scene is tremendously volatile,” McBroom said.
McBroom said any Republican running next year should be deeply concerned about two things: “ That those who sat out 2016 and opted third party are deeply regretful that Trump is in the White House,” and “That as they did successfully in Virginia, Democrats will prevail by turning out infrequent voters who are disproportionately African-American and other people of color.”
“The middle margin of voters that both parties need to win over for victory will likely be turned off from a candidate too closely aligned with Trump,” McBroom said. “To that extent, perhaps 2018 could be a referendum on Trump, especially since state Republican leaders are embracing rather than running from the president.”
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