At convention, Michigan GOP plots to win in '18

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — After being officially elected as Michigan Republican Party Chairman, GOP fundraiser Ron Weiser said Saturday his top goal is to make sure Republicans win the race for governor and U.S. Senate in 2018.

“It’s really simple: Winning in ‘18,” Weiser said. “There is no other alternative. There’s no other focus.”

To do that, Weiser said Republicans will have to make significant changes to the way they run their campaign machinery because they could be facing the curse of the president’s second year in office, when initial enthusiasm for a new president often wanes.

To combat that potential lull in support, Weiser said Republicans are going to tap GOP precinct delegates to start building grassroots support much earlier on than in previous campaigns.

“That’s how you win elections,” Weiser said.

Weiser said the party is staying neutral on potential gubernatorial candidates vying for the Republican nomination in 2018, and did not comment on speculation that Republicans Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette may face off against each other for the party’s nomination in the governor’s race.

“The party’s gonna be absolutely neutral, that I can tell you,” Weiser said. “There is obviously a race and there will be more people in it than those two, from what I know. So whoever comes out of the end of that race we’re gonna be in a position to help bring them over the finish line.”

Neither Calley nor Schuette have officially announced plans to run for the office, but both have been raising money that could be used in a gubernatorial campaign, according to filings with the state.

During the convention, a casually dressed Schuette offered a biting reprisal of the “lost decade” under former Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm and used the opportunity to remind delegates that “2018 is just around the corner,” but stopped short of officially announcing his candidacy for governor.

When asked when he might announce, Schuette said: “Stay tuned. There’s plenty of time. My first responsibility is my role as Attorney General.”

Calley also addressed delegates in an enthusiastic speech praising Trump as, “a president that is doing exactly what he said he was going to do.”

Calley had originally withheld his support for Trump until eventually disclosing that he voted for the Republican.

Weiser said multiple Republicans — besides just Calley and Schuette — will likely be vying to be the state’s next governor and keep former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer at bay, who has already announced her candidacy for governor as a Democrat.

That same year, Republicans will try to challenge U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow for her seat. Republicans may have to host a primary if multiple candidates run.

Weiser has said the GOP is still looking for a “good candidate” for U.S. Senate and said he hasn’t had any conversations with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton about running for reelection although Upton has been Michigan’s 6th Congressional District representative since 1987.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said Schuette would be a great candidate for governor.

He said he is concerned that Snyder’s legacy may come back to haunt Calley, if he runs for governor. In that scenario, Jones said Calley would have to own up to Snyder’s decisions, some of which have been unpopular with some Republicans. Schuette wouldn’t have that — or the specter of the Flint water crisis —weighing on him.

Jones said Calley is “a conservative man, an honorable man, good family man. Certainly he has stood up for people, children with special needs and he’s admired.

“But I like to win,” Jones said. “And I think Bill Schuette’s the best candidate.”

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, from Michigan’s 1st District, said he hasn’t been able to spend much time thinking about the early governor’s race in Michigan from Washington D.C.

“I’m a little busy right now with Congress,” Bergman said, who was an outspoken Donald Trump supporter during the president’s campaign. “I have not focused any effort on who’s running. The fact of the matter is we’re gonna have some good folks that are gonna vie for it.”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeGerstein