Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s long anticipated entry into the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial race Tuesday gives the Republican primary contest something every such campaign should have: a competitive match-up between two strong and distinct candidates.
GOP voters should be well served by the opportunity to compare and contrast the visions presented by Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette, who entered the race earlier this fall. Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township is also among the contenders.
Competitive primaries serve a very useful purpose. They force candidates to throw aside caution and mount an aggressive campaign that fully exposes them to voters.
Candidates running alone or against only token opposition can afford to play it safe, dodge tough questions and play coy on their positions on controversial issues.
That was where Hillary Clinton was headed into the 2016 Democratic presidential race, before Sen. Bernie Sanders gained traction and presented her with a real fight. That campaign revealed the philosophical rift in the Democratic Party and prodded the two candidates to search for messages to appeal to a broader swath of voters.
Hopefully, that will be the case in Michigan in 2018 as well.
The Republican Party is as divided in Michigan as it is nationally. Many new voices have joined the party since the tea party revolution of 2010, and then again with the populist candidacy of Donald Trump.
Traditional Republicans are now vying for influence with the tea party followers and Trumpites. A Schuette/Calley face-off will bring that ideological divide into full focus.
Schuette, who this week picked up the implied support of Vice President Mike Pence, was previously endorsed by the president. He backed Trump in last fall’s general election.
Calley, on the other hand, pulled his endorsement of Trump. He is the protege of Gov. Rick Snyder, who this week touted the lieutenant governor’s role in Michigan’s economic comeback. Calley, by default, will be running on the Snyder record.
Schuette and the governor are hardly friends, and their divide has deepened thanks in large part to the attorney general’s prosecution of several Snyder administration aides in the Flint water crisis case.
So this primary campaign will take the temperature of the Republican party in Michigan, and measure how much influence Trump has at the mid-point of his term.
A competitive primary will also temper the winning candidate, providing valuable experience for the general election. It provides the chance to test messages and reveal whatever traps and tricks an opponent might employ.
A candidate should have to work hard for a gubernatorial nomination. Having both Calley and Schuette on the primary ballot in 2018 will assure that becoming the Republican standard bearer next November is a prize that is well earned.