Bankole: Bill Schuette just made it tough for Democrats
Just when some Democrats seemed fired up and expecting the gubernatorial election to be a smooth sail to victory because of all the anti-Trump fervor, Bill Schuette, the Republican nominee for governor, has forced them to begin to think twice.
Schuette’s selection last week of former state Rep. Lisa Lyons from Grand Rapids as his running mate was a political masterstroke. Lyons whose father, Dick Posthumus, serves as Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump.
With Lyons on the ticket, Schuette, a Trump favorite, gets to demonstrate that he is willing to work with those who disagree with him by adding a Trump critic as the second-in-command of a future administration. That would be viewed by some in the electorate as indicative of political astuteness and maturity.
But the attorney general also gets to plant in the public consciousness the notion that the reported chasms between him and Snyder resulting from the Flint water crisis are overblown. He has also put the governor in a very awkward position because Snyder can’t stand neutral in a race where the daughter of his own chief of staff and a longstanding aide, is running to be next lieutenant governor. As a matter of political loyalty, Snyder will have to make a choice.
For Democrats, the main bone to pick with Lyons is that she is not from southeast Michigan where most of the votes are. That is true to a certain degree. But by choosing a woman as his running mate in the year of women, the Republican flagbearer appears to have severely undercut the Democratic message that Republicans are undermining women.
Democrats will have to be careful about how they play the gender card because Schuette’s answer is Lisa Lyons, who has already demonstrated that she isn’t afraid to take on Trump, who in the eyes of Democrats is the albatross around the neck of the Republican Party.
Lyons brings more to the ticket than just being a woman. She is currently the election administrator in her county, and she also has legislative experience, having served in Lansing. On the campaign trail, she can answer a lot of questions about governance in Lansing, which is dominating a lot of conversations during this election cycle.
Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee, now has to choose a running mate who brings significant political or business executive experience to balance her ticket and — very importantly — will excite voters in Detroit. Some of the names that have been mentioned in the media will not fit the bill for what Democrats will need to take over the governorship.
Several people I’ve spoken with about the dilemma Democrats are facing in choosing a running mate suggest that Whitmer should pick either Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon or someone like Abdul El-Sayed. Not only does El-Sayed have a huge following, but also he has an incredible personal story and the compelling experience in relation to issues like health care that matter to Democrats, independents and Republicans alike.
If Whitmer is courageous and willing to make a game-changing choice, she can go for the likes of El-Sayed, whose addition to the ticket will not only make national news, but will capture the new taste for diversity and inclusion in governance.
If Whitmer isn’t able to select a candidate with a remarkable background in government or business that can match the Schuette/Lyons ticket, she will be mistaking or taking this election for granted. This isn’t a city council or Wayne County Commission race. This is the governor’s race.
Experience matters in governance. Trust matters too. And the perception of being truly in charge has a lot of sway with voters.
Whitmer can look to the Mark Schauer and Virg Bernero campaigns and see why they both lost to Snyder.
At the end of the day, her running mate must be someone who has the political and administrative experience as well as the requisite skills to take that 3 a.m. phone call and handle a complex crisis that comes with governance. Never mind those who say voters don't decide based on the running mate. Oftentimes, they do. Because they know a gubernatorial (or presidential) ticket is as strong as its weakest member.
Bill Schuette has laid down the gauntlet. It is now up to Gretchen Whitmer to demonstrate her political gamesmanship.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on 910AM Superstation.