The Fight for Michigan: Will Voters Pick the Tough Nerd or the Angry Mayor?

Will Michigan Voters Pick Tough Nerd or Angry Mayor for Governor?
Will Michigan Voters Pick Tough Nerd or Angry Mayor for Governor?

After Tuesday's primary elections in Michigan, the governor's race in the Wolverine state sounds a bit like a battle between comic book super-villains. Republican Rick Snyder (right), a venture capitalist and former president of Gateway Computer, calls himself "one tough nerd." His Democratic opponent, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (left), earned the nickname "America's Angriest Mayor" for his frequent cable TV interviews blasting the auto industry bailout. And right now, the tide is turning in the nerd's favor.

Snyder, who has never run for office before, captured the GOP nomination this week thanks to some savvy campaigning and a willingness to spend about $6 million of his own money. He started his run for office with a television commercial during the Super Bowl, and managed to outflank his more politically experienced primary opponents, including U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra. A mid-June Rasmussen poll showed Snyder with 42% of support to Bernero's 30% in a head-to-head match-up. That doesn't surprise Bill Ballenger, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, given the dismal state of Michigan's economy and the unpopularity of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Polls have been trending Republican in the race for months.

Indeed, the economy is central to Snyder's platform. His website features handy economic facts, such as that Michigan -- not surprisingly -- is last among the states in job creation. Michigan's unemployment rate also is among the highest in the country. Snyder pledges to fix the state's tax laws and reform its government.

Bernero, who is striking a more populist tone, is vowing to "lead Michigan's economic recovery." Neither one can afford to get too complacent because that Rasmussen poll showed 22% of voters were undecided (plus 7% who favored other candidates) and there is still plenty of time between now and election day in November.

Tough to Transition From Business to Politics

Snyder is one of many former top executives running for political office during the midterm elections. Former Hewlett Packard (HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina is the Republican candidate for Senate in California, and former eBay (EBAY) head Meg Whitman is seeking to be the state's next governor. Linda McMahon, who along with her husband, Vince, built World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) into a media empire, is the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate from Connecticut. Though money is important in politics, the track record for businesspeople entering politics is mixed. Too often, self-financed candidates fail to appreciate the nuances of politics, such as that people won't elect a candidate who they don't like. New York's billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg understands this -- as does Snyder.

"He was pretty disciplined, even-tempered during the campaign," Ballenger says. "He urged independents and Democrats to vote in the Republican primary -- which is allowed -- and there is some evidence that they did that."

Bernero, though, will be no pushover. As Ballenger notes, he "loves to run for office and is a very good debater." As theDetroit Free Pressnotes, not so long ago, party insiders snickered at the idea that Bernero might be the Democratic nominee.

"They're not laughing now," the paper says.

The gloves are already off for what is shaping up to be a hard-fought election. NerdyMan vs. AngryMan: Let the battle commence.