Poll: Whitmer, Fieger lead Democrats in gov’s race

Michael Gerstein, and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — If Geoffrey Fieger decides to run for Michigan governor, he appears poised to give presumed front-runner Gretchen Whitmer a tough Democratic primary contest in 2018, a new poll finds.

A Target-Insyght survey of 377 likely Democratic primary voters last Tuesday and Thursday showed former state Senate minority leader Whitmer and Southfield lawyer Fieger tied at 35 percent. Fieger’s support jumped to 50 percent support among 162 Metro Detroiters surveyed, including strong backing in the city of Detroit.

While Fieger has not announced his candidacy, he has said he’s “darn serious” about a potential run.

Two other announced Democratic candidates — former Detroit health department director Abdul El-Sayed and Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar — were well behind at 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.35 percent percentages and was paid for by the Michigan Information & Research Service.

Fieger’s popularity does not necessarily indicate that he will join the race, said Ed Sarpolus, pollster and executive director of Target-Insyght in Lansing. It shows that Whitmer may face challenges with black voters in urban cores, a key bloc of Democratic voters, he said.

“The poll demonstrates where she’s weak, and it’s the same area where (Democratic nominee) Mark Schauer had problems four years ago within the urban core,” Sarpolus said.

“The fact is Geoffrey Fieger can say, ‘I’m testing the waters here, I’m Michigan’s Donald Trump on the Democratic side,’ and he basically is tied with her. And the reason he’s doing so well is in Detroit he’s leading her 38 percent to 7 percent,” Sarpolus said. “Gretchen Whitmer does not have a presence in southeast Michigan. She doesn’t have a presence in the minority communities.”

It included a mix of automated land-line surveys -- 76 percent -- and live operator cell phone calls, 24 percent.

Wayne County was a key stronghold for Fieger when he was trounced by then-Gov. John Engler in 1998. It was the only county he carried in the state, leading him a few days after his loss to publicly contemplate a run for Detroit mayor in 2001 that he never made.

On the Republican side, likely candidate Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is far ahead of the potential competition at 42 percent, with likely hopeful Lt. Gov. Brian Calley at 14 percent. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township received 4 percent and Saginaw Dr. Jim Hines 1 percent.

The survey of 344 likely GOP primary voters involved 83 percent of automated land-line interviews and 17 percent of live operator cell phone calls.

The lieutenant governor scrapped thousands of signatures for a part-time Legislature ballot proposal in early July and restarted his petition drive.

“Right now, Calley has gotten no bounce from pushing this part-time legislature, and Bill Schuette remains strong,” Sarpolus said. “That’s quite surprising with all the effort that Calley’s put into that.”

The declared and potential gubernatorial candidates have raised more than a collective $9 million, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures released last week.