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Snyder hints at White House bid

By David Shepardson Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday he is focused on a May 5 ballot initiative to fix Michigan's roads, while again not ruling out a run for the presidency.

Snyder told the Associated Press on Wednesday "there's time to evaluate opportunities," the strongest hint to date that he considering a run for the presidency.

"Right now I'm fully occupied with looking at Michigan," he said. "We have a ballot proposal May 5. And so that's my key priority."

But Snyder may have a shrinking window to decide, with the field of candidates expected to grow dramatically in the coming weeks and many Republicans already are raising millions of dollars and locking up key staffers in early primary states. Several Midwestern governors are considering runs, as is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who will campaign in Michigan this week — as are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, several senators and retired Detroit native, Dr. Ben Carson.

Snyder's support for a tax increase sets him apart from the Republican White House prospects, who have aggressively opposed tax increases under any circumstances. His push to promote the roads tax plan — which he called a "commonsense" move to repair the state's crumbling infrastructure — just as the Republican primary contest begins also underscores the former CEO's approach to governing regardless of the political consequences.

"You do the math, and this is the right thing to do," Snyder, a former accountant, said Wednesday in Washington, where he was receiving an award for bipartisanship and pragmatism.

After that, he plans to go "where people will have me" to talk about Michigan's strengthening economy. Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen to 5.9 percent, its lowest mark in 14 years.

"When people say, 'You're not being responsible,' it's like, well, let's look at the total record here," Snyder said of the tax increase. "This is done in the context of being just as fiscally responsible."

In January, Snyder repeatedly refused to say if he is considering running for president, saying he had to recover from a torn Achilles tendon first.

Snyder has refused to completely close the door as he plans to embark on a tour touting Michigan and Detroit later this year. If he keeps the possibility open, even if remote, it means his travel would likely get more media attention.

The Detroit News asked his spokeswoman earlier Wednesday if Snyder had any plans to travel to early presidential voting states of New Hampshire or Iowa. She said nothing was on the schedule. Snyder has had to miss events with other possible presidential candidates in recent weeks because he has been unable to fly, including an event in Georgia.

Snyder also was in Washington on Wednesday to meet with Pentagon leaders on military issues, including the Air Force's proposal to eliminate the A-10 airplane.

Sara Wurfel confirmed the Pentagon meeting was on "matters of importance to Michigan," declining to talk about specifics. Michigan members of Congress said Snyder was expected to raise the fate of the A-10, a proposed missile defense site in Battle Creek and cybersecurity issues.

Snyder has had to cancel a number of trips since January — when he tore his Achilles tendon and was later hospitalized with a blood clot — including one to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He's also had to cancel other trips to New York and Washington, including for the National Governors Association winter meetings in February.

He was also making up for some meetings he missed as part of the Council of Governors on Wednesday. Snyder last week put some pressure on his foot and one day this week Snyder was able to take off the protective boot, Wurfel said.

"It's hard for him because he's not wired to take it easy," Wurfel said.

Snyder made an unannounced stop Wednesday morning at the University of Michigan congressional breakfast and he is being honored at an event on bipartisanship.

On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, who is director of military and veterans affairs in Michigan and heads the Michigan Army and Air National Guard, was in Washington to talk about the A-10s.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said Wednesday she met with Vadnais "to discuss just how critical it is that we preserve the A-10 Warthog, our troops' most trusted and reliable close air support aircraft. The Michigan National Guard plays such an important role in protecting and defending the security of our nation at home and abroad."

Last month, Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, wrote President Barack Obama urging him to reconsider the plan to retire the A-10.

Last year, the Air Force also tried to kill the A-10 airplane, but a deal struck by Congress in December saved 18 A-10 planes at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County.

Under the agreement, the Pentagon couldn't get rid of the planes but could reduce flying time for active duties — but not for the planes at Selfridge in Harrison Township.

The Pentagon budget proposal has called for saving $3.5 billion over five years by eliminating the A-10 fleet.

The A-10 is a 40-year-old, single-purpose airplane designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield and can no longer compete with more advanced aircraft, the Defense Department has argued.

Had the plan gone into effect, eliminating Selfridge's A-10s could have affected up to 650 full- and part-time jobs tied to the planes' operations at Selfridge, officials have said.

In February, Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Stabenow said members are working with Snyder's office to locate a missile defense system in Battle Creek. It is competing with Ohio; Fort Drum, New York; and Portsmouth, Maine, for the site.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

Associated Press contributed.