Southeastern Michigan – Detroit and Wayne County, in particular – have long been crucial to Democrats’ fortunes in gubernatorial elections.
That’s why reported efforts of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other Democratic leaders to seek alternatives to party front-runner Gretchen Whitmer raise big questions about Dems’ chances to win the governor’s race later this year.
If Detroit support is tepid, so are Democrats’ chances.
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“We should have had a clear advantage this year” in a Donald Trump backlash, a Michigan Democratic Party insider theorized to Bridge on Monday. “Now the race is a jump ball and it shouldn’t have been.”
You have to go all the way back to the 1932 election of Alpena’s William Comstock to find a Democrat governor without strong Metro Detroit roots. For decades, Detroit and inner-ring suburbs have voted overwhelmingly Democratic.
Michigan has elected only two Democratic governors in the past half-century: Jim Blanchard of southern Oakland County and Jennifer Granholm of western Wayne County.
In 1990, Blanchard, a former congressman from Ferndale just north of Detroit, sought a third term as governor. After polling well ahead for much of the race, Blanchard lost at the wire to John Engler, the Republican majority leader of the Michigan Senate.
“Democratic numbers were definitely down that year and Detroit was a significant part of that,” recalled Lansing public relations executive Roger Martin, who at that time was a Detroit News political correspondent and co-authored the book, “The Journey of John Engler,” about the 1990 race.
Detroit Mayor “Coleman Young was not enthusiastic about another Blanchard term,” Martin said. “He didn’t think Blanchard did enough for Detroit.”
In 2002, Wayne County Democrat Jennifer Granholm garnered nearly 30 percent more statewide gubernatorial votes than Blanchard did in losing 12 years earlier.
Riding initially on the strength of the Ed McNamara-Mike Duggan Wayne County political machine, Granholm served two terms as governor and is the last Democrat to win the office.
Granholm tallied more than 1.6 million votes in her first successful run for governor in 2002.
The Democratic Party’s next two general election gubernatorial candidates were both out-staters.
In 2010, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero collected 21 percent fewer votes statewide and 18 percent fewer voters in Wayne County than Granholm’s first run.
In 2014, former Battle Creek Congressman Mark Schauer collected nearly 10 percent fewer votes statewide and 16 percent fewer votes in Wayne County than Granholm’s first run.