Poll: Michigan governor’s race close; Peters widens lead

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – — Gov. Rick Snyder has a less than 2-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, according to a new statewide poll, after losing ground in recent weeks as outside groups stepped up attacks on both candidates.

The Detroit News-WDIV (Local 4) poll shows Snyder leading Schauer 43.6 percent to 41.8 percent, which is within the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Schauer gained seven percentage points since The News last surveyed the governor’s race in late May.

The polling data shows the Republican governor’s bid for a second term is fighting Democratic headwinds this fall after voters handed over complete control of state government to the GOP in 2010, said pollster Richard Czuba of the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc.

“The dynamics are not the same as they were four years ago,” Czuba said. “This is a true toss-up.”

The statewide survey of 600 likely voters also found Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette narrowly leading his Democratic challenger, Mark Totten, by two percentage points and Democrat Gary Peters holding a 10.5 percentage-point lead over Republican Terri Lynn Land in the U.S. Senate race.

According to the poll, Schauer leads 35 percent to 31 percent among independent voters. Snyder’s campaign hoped to get a boost among independents Tuesday after winning the endorsement of former Gov. William Milliken, a moderate Republican who has supported Democrats before.

Schauer, a former congressman from Battle Creek, also is leading in the electoral battleground of southeast Michigan by 11 percentage points — a 19-point shift from Snyder’s lead in the May survey conducted by Glengariff Group.

“These latest numbers show two things: Republican Rick Snyder is in big trouble and Mark Schauer has all the momentum in this race,” said Cathy Bacile Cunningham, spokeswoman for Schauer’s campaign.

The poll was conducted Sept. 3-5 during the first few days of Snyder’s new statewide TV campaign, and after Democrats outspent Republicans nearly 2-1 in August TV advertising.

In the new 60-second ad, Snyder shifts from his “comeback state” slogan and tells voters the state is “on the road to recovery for every Michigander.”

“After an August blitz of negative advertising, Gov. Snyder is starting to tell his positive story and we feel our record and optimistic message of nearly 300,000 new private-sector jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in six years, four balanced, on-time budgets in four years and an increased investment in education will resonate with Michiganders,” Snyder spokeswoman Emily Benavides said.

The poll shows voters are split on whether the state’s economy is on the right track, but 58 percent of key independent voters said Michigan is on the wrong track.

Snyder may have overstated the state’s economic recovery by labeling Michigan the “comeback state,” Czuba said.

“‘Comeback’ was the wrong word,” he said. “Voters don’t believe it and they don’t buy it. They’ve switched to ‘road to recovery.’”

The poll asked voters whom they think would do a better job creating jobs, improving schools, balancing the state budget, fixing roads and reflecting their values.

Voters surveyed said they believe Snyder would do a better job balancing the budget — 52 percent to 30 percent for Schauer — and that the businessman-turned-governor is better suited at job creation, 48 percent to 32 percent.

But surveyed voters said Schauer would do a better job improving schoolsand the public education system — 46.5 percent to 34.5 percent. They also indicated they have more faith in Schauer to fix the state’s crumbling roads — 38 percent to 29 percent — while 32 percent of voters doubt either man could do that job.

Czuba and other political observers say Schauer is cutting into Snyder’s lead by exploiting perceived weaknesses in the governor’s campaign strategy, which to date has been largely focused on governing instead of campaigning.

Snyder needs to mount a better campaign discrediting inaccurate claims by Schauer and Democrats that the governor cut $1 billion from public schools in 2011, Czuba said.

During Snyder’s term, overall education funding has increased by $1 billion, though Democrats argue about per-pupil funding getting slashed during the governor’s first year in office.

“I think he has to mount a defense on this issue,” said Czuba, a former official in Republican Gov. John Engler’s administration. “We use do have a joke: Say it twice and it’s a fact. And that seems to be the case here with the Schauer campaign and the Democrats repeating this mantra that he’s cut a billion from education.”

Interviews with respondents to the poll show Snyder’s decision to levy the income tax on more retirees’ pensions in 2011 remains controversial.

Retired school custodian Laura Miller of Eaton Rapids said she and her husband were hit particularly hard by Snyder’s tax changes because they both get pensions in retirement.

“I didn’t like the governor taxing the pensions of the elderly,” said Miller, 68, who favors Schauer for governor. “We worked all of our lives to draw what we’ve drawn and he took part of it.”

Snyder’s tax law changes are expected to generate $355 million in additional income tax revenue from pensions this fiscal year, according to the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency.

Dick Hoefer, 66, of Northville, said he too has paid income tax on his pension from an automotive supplier.

But the self-described political independent and former Republican said he understands Snyder’s argument that taxing pensions is a matter of fairness to working seniors.

“That was significant,” Hoefer said of the pension tax. “But to the contrary, why should a person trying to support a family pay a higher tax than a retiree who has the same level of income?”

“Somewhere along the lines, this country needs to support leaders who will do what’s best for the country and not for a narrow individual group.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

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