Finley: Snyder wins forum, but race still on
Gov. Rick Snyder found out Sunday night why incumbents are so reluctant to give their challengers a shot at the debate stage.
For 60 minutes at Wayne State University, in a town hall I co-moderated, the governor flat out seethed while Democrat Mark Schauer repeated over and again the talking points of his attack ads.
But give Snyder credit, he didn't blow, although he looked from the beginning as if he could at any moment. The governor, who has made unflappability his trademark, was visibly frustrated and angry as his opponent stuck to what have been proved largely untrue charges by independent fact checkers.
Like the billion-dollar cut to education. Spending on schools is up over four years ago, and yet Schauer stuck relentlessly to the claim that the governor has sliced education funds by $1 billion. Each time, Snyder would give the facts, and then Schauer would repeat the charge once more. If you were inclined to believe the claim, the forum probably didn't change your mind.
It went like that all night. Snyder brought specific details to defend his record, as well as an outline of where he'll take the state during the next four years.
Schauer brought his talking points. There were few specifics from the former congressman and a lot of populism.
But there was also passion. Schauer was not intimidated to be on the stage next to the man who has held for four years the office he wants to take. Calling the governor "Rick" throughout, Schauer spoke with poise and confidence, and if you weren't bothered by his lack of details, he might have impressed you with his tenacity.
He stuck to his three major points — blasting the governor for education cuts, for the "job-killing pension tax" and for not being a true leader.
In doing so, he kept the governor on defense more than Snyder would have liked.
It was when the governor focused on his own agenda, rather than truth-squading Schauer, that the forum tipped his way.
The governor was most effective in laying out his plans for creating more robust job growth and defending the economic foundation he's laid.
He also countered Schauer's punches with more vigor than he usually displays.
Two places where Snyder lost points to Schauer were his answers to where he stood on continuing the appeal of Michigan's gay marriage ban and the controversial Aramark prison food service contract.
On gay marriage, the governor refused to say where he stands. He obviously wanted to do nothing that would alienate the conservative Republicans he needs to show up for him on Election Day. He should have noted that he supports legislation — in fact pushed for it — to extend the Elliott-Larsen civil rights act to cover gays, lesbians and transgendered residents. He seemed flummoxed and instead whiffed.
Aramark was a tough one. The failings of the company — maggots in food and workers consorting with prisoners — have been well reported. He gave a credible answer that he was giving Aramark time to get it right, but Schauer nailed him, turning patience into anything but a virtue.
But Schauer overreached in the attack on Snyder's leadership. Voters, whether they like the governor's agenda or not, know Snyder got nearly every piece of it passed, except a roads fix. Snyder is one of the only Republican governors to join the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, getting that passed through a reluctant Legislature.
Schauer's lamest moment came in challenging the governor for his handling of the Detroit bankruptcy. He was clearly rallying Detroit voters. But statewide polls consistently give Snyder top marks for managing the city's recovery.
On the whole, I'd give the win to Snyder, but not nearly by a knock-out. Schauer's passion and persistence had to fire up Democrats, who polls show are less enthused about casting a ballot this election than are Republicans.
Snyder did what he needed and wanted to do. He was feisty, and he corrected the record. But Schauer did well enough; he wasn't carried off the stage. This race is still on.
Follow Nolan Finley on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.