Why Democratic candidates need Detroit to become governor

Gretchen Whitmer

Gretchen Whitmer, the current Democratic frontrunner for Michigan governor in 2018, faces some geographic headwinds to a successful race.

August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor
March 2018 update: After early doubts, UAW backs Whitmer for governor
February 2018 update: Duggan hits reverse, now supports Gretchen Whitmer

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.

click to enlarge

“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.

MORE COVERAGE: Some Dems seek alternative to Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan governor race

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.

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Thomas A. Wilson Jr.
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 8:56am

I'm a precinct delegate/Sergeant-At-Arms in the 14th District and as the saying goes "The road to Lansing runs through Detroit." However, when only 13.4%, the percentage of voters who went to the polls in the August 2017 Primary election and not too many more turned out for the November 2017 General election, of the electorate turn out to vote that saying becomes moot. There needs to be a more concerted effort, by the MDP and the other political leaders in Detroit to seriously bolster the voter turnout otherwise Schuette, God forbid, is going to be a shoo-in for governor.

Stephen Banicki
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:42am

Excellent comment. How do we change this

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:04pm

We, Democrats, need to hold meetings on the north, south, east, west sides of the city the, with food/entertainment, and invite the people who have dropped out of voting or are/have not been a part of the political system and talk with them, not at them, and find out why they are no longer a part of the political system and what would encourage them to be involved again.

Paul Mayhue
Mon, 01/22/2018 - 7:30pm

Dems and republican have no commitment for Back Neighborhoods or Back youth and no one to deal with the curse of gentrification.

Suzanne Hayes
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:18am

Abdul El-Sayed? Sounds too good to be true!

Stephen Banicki
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:31am

History does not always foretell the future. The Republican party has gotten stronger in Michigan over the years, There is poor voter turnout in Wayne County especially Detroit. It seems to me that the Democrats are taking a risk by counting on Detroit and the inner ring suburbs to go Democratic.

Is Duggan making a move by early on not looking like he is "making a move". I think so. All the good that he has done as Mayor was more than offset by his support of the city giving up ownership of billions in art for mere pennies on the dollar. ... http://lstrn.us/1TCHHJJ

Kurt Metzger
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:48am

The Democrats should have learned from the defeat of Jim Blanchard by John Engler. The Dems took Detroit for granted and stayed away. Detroiters felt unappreciated and stayed away from the polls.

Please Democrats, don’t think an anti-Trump wave will be your saving grace. You need a strong platform and a very strong ground game in Detroit and other communities with large non-white populations.

Kurt Metzger
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:53am

Just so you know, Blanchard lived in Pleasant Ridge, not Ferndale. As Mayor of PR, I want to make sure our little town gets the credit it is due.

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 7:35pm

Again, we are seeing a chosen candidate by the party.

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 5:11pm

That's right, some lily white chick from Lansing can't represent the down trodden of Detroit! John Conyer's, I understand is available!

Celia Young-Wenkel
Thu, 01/18/2018 - 9:44am

To the person who was concerned about "low turn out in 2018", have you been to Michigan lately? First of all there's the gerrymandering issue, and then there's the prevailing wage matter. Have you heard about the "blue wave"? Tom Steyer has specifically targeted Michigan to turn it blue. Need I go on?