Mark Schauer looks back at failed bid

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — One month after losing the race for governor, Mark Schauer is still searching for answers as to why Democrats stayed home on Election Day and passed on a chance to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Michigan Democratic Party leaders have begun analyzing election data to figure out which voters turned out to the polls or returned an absentee ballot and which ones did not.

Turnout in the Nov. 4 general election was 3.18 million, nearly 80,000 fewer voters than the 2010 election turnout when Republicans took control of all three branches of state government. Schauer and other Democrats never envisioned turnout being worse than 2010.

“The mystery is why turnout was less than 2010,” Schauer said Monday in a wide-ranging interview with The Detroit News. “I think if we had had a turnout anywhere close to turnout in 2006, I’d be Gov.-elect Mark Schauer right now. I have no doubt about that.”

The 2006 contest was a national wave election for Democrats, drawing a record 3.8 million voters to cast ballots in Michigan and carrying then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to re-election victory over Republican businessman Dick DeVos.

“The evaluation that I’m interested in is why Democrats don’t vote in midterm elections near to the level that they do in presidential elections,” Schauer said.

In one of his first interviews since losing the election, Schauer said he believes his campaign “controlled the narrative” on education funding and Snyder’s controversial tax on some pension income.

But as campaign manager BJ Neidhardt reminded him after the 4 percentage point loss: “There are no moral victories.”

“I agree completely. We lost,” Schauer said in an interview at the Michigan Laborers District Council’s office in Lansing. “But if I had a crystal ball, it would be about figuring how we can better connect with those voters that didn’t vote and turn them out.”

Schauer, a former congressman and state legislator from Battle Creek, said he’s participating in a “post-mortem” study of election data with other Democratic Party leaders.

But Schauer says he has no future political “agenda,” only an interest in helping his party win races in future midterm elections when the balance of power in Lansing is determined.

“It’s unlikely I’ll be on the ballot again as a partisan candidate,” said Schauer, 53.

Bobby Schostak, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Schauer’s search for answers about the lackluster Democratic turnout may be fruitless.

“It really is no mystery as to what happened here,” Schostak said Monday. “We turned out our voters, we had a better candidate and we had Michigan recovering under this governor.”

The Secretary of State’s Office released the qualified voter file Thursday, detailing who voted and who did not. Political operatives in both parties are scouring over the data, comparing the names of voters who cast ballots with the ones they appealed to this fall through door knocking, phone calls, emails and social media.

Based on that data, the Michigan Republican Party has determined that about 250,000 Republicans who didn’t vote in 2010 cast ballots this year, which may have aided Snyder as it was assumed he would lose some Democratic and independent votes he won in 2010.

Snyder defeated Schauer by about 128,000 votes.

“Not only did we get our folks vote, but I’m sure we got some soft Democrats to vote with us as well,” Schostak said. “We knew going into 2014 that we have to be focused on turning out our base.”

Schauer’s one regret

Schauer said one of his only regrets of the campaign was skipping a press conference after his Oct. 12 debate with the governor at Wayne State University.

Snyder and Schauer had both agreed to talk to reporters separately after the debate co-sponsored by The Detroit News.

Schauer said he skipped the appearance because he wanted to spend time backstage with his wife, sister and family before heading to another late-night event.

“If I had a do-over in the campaign, that would be it,” Schauer said. “I regret not sharing my positive feelings about the debate with the press.”

Schauer later added jokingly: “I should have taken my victory lap.”

Schauer defends campaign approach

During the campaign, some fellow Democrats joined Republicans in criticizing Schauer’s lack of a specific governing plan.

They said he was not offering enough specifics about how he would pay for repeal of a tax on pension income that generates $350 million for the state’s coffers or how he would put more money into K-12 education without raising taxes.

Schauer defended his campaign’s approach.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we provided more specifics in a more specific jobs plan than Rick Snyder did about what he would do in a second term,” Schauer said. “I would challenge anyone to say what did Rick Snyder promise in a second term, other than more of the same.”

Schauer conceded, though, that Snyder’s work to turnaround the city of Detroit aided his re-election campaign with voters in the suburbs.

“It seems clear that the governor had an advantage in the critical counties of Oakland and Macomb,” Schauer said.

‘I’ve moved on from that’

Schauer’s race for governor was his 10th bid for public offices, which have included the Battle Creek City Commission, the state House and Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Schauer lost re-election to Congress in 2010 to Republican Tim Walberg, swept out of office after one term by the same wave that helped put Snyder in office.

After that, he went to work for the Michigan Laborers. He has resumed consulting for the labor union and is weighing future job options in Michigan or out-of-state, but did not elaborate.

“I’m exploring some other ways to be engaged in public service,” he said. “I haven’t made any big decisions yet on any changes professionally.”

Schauer said he intends to get involved with the likely 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. He co-chaired Clinton’s 2008 Michigan campaign.

On the campaign trail this fall, Schauer at times exerted more enthusiasm for being governor than Snyder sometimes does.

“It was a job that I felt I was ready for, I was excited about, I was passionate about,” Schauer said Monday. “But look, I’ve moved on from that.”

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