Gov. Snyder as you’ve never heard him before

Neal Rubin

The governor who ran four years ago as “one tough nerd” suddenly sounds different.

In his last two campaign commercials, Rick Snyder’s voice is deeper, if not quite Morgan Freeman-like. More rugged, if not quite Charles Bronson-like.

All in all, it’s less used-to-get-teased-at-the-bus-stop-like than when he whomped Democrat Virg Bernero in 2010.

A high-ish, somewhat nasal voice, it should be noted, has not noticeably impeded Snyder’s rise to success. He’s rich, his wife and kids seem to like him, and he oversees a state that most Americans can actually identify on a map.

But he’s 56, a good bit older than most boys are when their voices change.

It could be Snyder is feeling more heat this time around from opponent Mark Schauer, who only trails in the polls by a few percentage points. That’s one theory.

Or it could be that he had a touch of the sniffles. That’s as close as it comes to an official explanation.

Either way, it’s almost as if we have a new man in charge.

Someone more mellifluous and more confident.

Someone secure enough to wear a crew-necked sweatshirt in an ad called “Numbers” and make no reference at all to being a spindly nerd.

Rather, he now says: “I’m an accountant.”

Emily Benavides, spokeswoman for Snyder’s campaign, laughs gently at the mention of the candidate’s voice.

A few people have suggested that an actor has been reading his lines. You’d laugh at that, too.

But no, she says, he has not been taking voice lessons. “He’s not that type of politician.”

And no, he was not trying to pitch his voice lower in the strike zone when he narrated the two spots a few weeks ago. “That was the governor’s voice that day.”

“He was working on getting over a cold,” Benavides says, and maybe that was a factor.

“I was just in an interview with him yesterday,” she continues, “and he sounds the same to me.”

Not to Victoria Mantzopoulos, though.

Mantzopolous is a professor of political science and an associate dean at the University of Detroit Mercy.

She hears something different in his voice — and in his message.

Voice, message ‘are one’

“It’s an authority,” Mantzopoulos says. “An authority in his voice.”

She noticed it immediately as Snyder intoned, “I’m an accountant — and your governor.”

“We’re on the road to recovery for every Michigander,” he said. “You may not feel it yet, but you will soon.”

That sounds uncomfortably like the last governor telling us how in five years, we were going to be blown away. But it’s smart, Mantzopoulos says.

“He knows that a lot of people are not better off yet,” she explains, but he’s implying that they will be, if only he is granted another term.

“His message is that we have control of the situation. The voice and the message are one.”

One guess: ‘It’s coaching’

As for the voice itself, agrees a professor from Western Michigan University’s speech pathology department, “No doubt about it.” The pitch on the two most recent ads “is much lower.”

James Hillenbrand says he has no way to know whether the governor was affected by a cold when he recorded his voice-overs, “but I’m using the same intuitions you are.”

“It’s coaching,” he says. “That’s my guess.”

Hillenbrand is not a fan of Snyder’s voice — the first one, anyway. But in an age when style tends to beat substance by five touchdowns, he says it makes the governor’s election even more impressive: “He’s got something to go along with it.”

In the other new ad, called “Generations,” Snyder spoke of building a foundation.

“This recovery,” he declared, “will last for generations.”

Maybe his new, deeper voice will, too. Or maybe it will only last until November ...

Unless it was just a cold.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

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