Trump a Factor in Governor's Races 09/23 10:09
LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- It's a resume that reads like an ideal springboard to
higher office: investigated sexual assaults of Olympic gymnasts, charged
government officials responsible for a tainted water crisis, bucked the
governor on tax hikes.
With that background and his party controlling all statewide offices,
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette might be on the fast track to winning
the Michigan governor's race in November. One reason he's not: President Donald
Schuette is an outspoken supporter of the president, who narrowly won the
state in 2016 but has declined in popularity since.
"I'm not going to run away from any issue," he said. "I appreciate the
support of the president, and I stand by my record of achievement."
As with many races around the country, this year's midterm campaigns for
governor are in many ways proxy fights over support or opposition to the Trump
Richard Czuba, a nonpartisan pollster in Michigan, said voters in every age
group are more motivated to get to the polls than he's seen in his 35-year
career. He said independent voters are leaning toward supporting Democrats this
year largely because of their distaste for Trump.
"It's an environment like nothing I've ever seen," said Democratic nominee
Gretchen Whitmer, a former legislative leader, who has held an edge in state
public opinion surveys.
She has spoken against Trump's policies but said she is much more focused on
fixing Michigan problems.
The theme of a Trump-backed Republican and a left-of-center Democrat locked
in a close election contest runs through many of the 36 races for governor on
the ballot this year.
Trump's relative unpopularity is another challenge for Republicans, who
already were bracing for tough governor's races this year after having
unprecedented success during former President Barack Obama's tenure.
Republicans have dominated state elections across the country since 2010,
the first midterm election after Obama took office. Even after losing in New
Jersey last year, Republicans hold a near-record 33 governor's offices compared
to 16 for Democrats (Alaska's governor is an independent).
Most of the races expected to be close this year are in states where
Republicans currently serve as governor. In addition to Michigan, swing states
that include Florida, Maine, Nevada and Ohio have open seats where the current
GOP incumbent is termed out. Incumbent Republicans are locked in tough races in
Arizona and Wisconsin, drawing millions of dollars in independent expenditures.
The GOP is aiming to pick up governor's seats in Connecticut and Colorado,
states with open seats where Democrats now hold the job, and to re-elect
incumbents in three other states in New England, a region that overwhelmingly
sends Democrats to Congress.
Why does it matter? Aside from holding executive powers and overseeing state
agencies, governors in many states can approve or veto the maps drawn once a
decade for congressional and state legislative seats. That process determines
which party will hold political power for years to come.
The next round of redistricting will happen after the 2020 Census, giving
governors who win this year the ability to approve or veto the new maps.
An arcane process typically of interest to political insiders, redistricting
has rocketed to national attention in the past two years. Republicans seized
control of state legislatures and governor's offices in 2010 and proceeded to
draw districts heavily favoring their party in many states, even those where
voter registration is about equally split between Democrats and Republicans.
That process, called gerrymandering, has given Republicans outsized
influence in Congress and state legislatures, and it's a dynamic Democrats hope
to begin reversing by retaking governor's offices.
"People recognized that if we were going to have some bastion of protection
for civil rights, it's to have a check on Donald Trump," Washington Gov. Jay
Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said in an interview.
"And the only way to do that is to stop this gerrymandering."
His group is targeting eight states where governors have a redistricting
role. It believes flipping the governor from a Republican to a Democrat would
put the party in position to pick up 20 seats in the U.S. House of
Representatives with the next maps.
Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association,
downplays gerrymandering as a motivating issue this year and portrays it as
part of the regular push-and-pull of politics.
Redistricting is one of many issues in play in governor's races across the
country. Health care is another, and many surveys show it as a top concern for
The Medicaid expansion that was part of Obama's Affordable Care Act is
emerging as a key issue in many states. That includes Florida and Georgia,
which have open races and where the Democratic candidates are trying to become
their state's first black governor.
Protecting older Americans from higher insurance premiums and protecting
those with pre-existing medical conditions are other hot-button topics. In
Michigan, health care is a dividing line between the candidates.
As attorney general, Schuette joined with other Republican attorneys general
in litigation seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are
criticizing him for not fighting a separate lawsuit that threatens protections
for patients with pre-existing conditions that Obama's law put in place.
That stance alone threatens to undermine any goodwill Schuette had built up
by launching investigations into the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint and
into Michigan State University's handling of sexual assaults by Larry Nasser,
the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics.
Instead, he's campaigning on a pledge to cut taxes, reduce auto insurance
rates and improve student reading scores.
Whitmer is focusing her campaign on cleaning up drinking water across the
state, rebuilding roads and maintaining the expansion of Medicaid that she
helped developed with current Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. It provides
health coverage to 663,000 lower-income adults.
She voted for the expansion of Medicaid as a lawmaker while Schuette opposed
it. He recently suggested that he would not undo the program but said he wants
to implement GOP-enacted work requirements that are scheduled to take effect in
the state in 2020.
"It is a stark difference," Whitmer said. "I want to keep working to get
more people covered, and he wants to take health care away from people."