Rick Snyder: A Moderate Republican for Michigan?

Rick Snyder is running a mostly non-ideological campaign for governor, touting his competence, business acumen and outsider status. It's a very bad time to be a Republican moderate. But, Snyder might win the nomination tomorrow anyway.
by | August 2, 2010
 

Ed Kilgore of 538 has a post pointing out what I think is one of the most notable questions in tomorrow's primaries: Can a moderate win the Republican nomination for governor in Michigan?

Rick Snyder, former CEO of Gateway computers, is the candidate I'm talking about. If Snyder simply had a reputation or a history as a moderate, the story wouldn't be all that interesting. Plenty of Republican candidates with moderate histories are running well in primaries this year -- Meg Whitman in California, Karen Handel in Georgia, Bill Haslam in Tennessee -- it's just that they're running well by campaigning as conservatives. Snyder is different.

He's running a mostly non-ideological campaign, touting his competence, business acumen and outsider status. What's more, he's affirmatively associating himself with some of Michigan's most well-known moderate Republicans -- Republicans who haven't demonstrated much loyalty to their party lately. That includes former Gov. William Milliken, who's made a habit of criticizing Republican nominees for president, and former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, who supported a Democrat for his old congressional seat in 2008 over the Republican who had ousted him in a 2006 primary.

Polls show Snyder in a tight three-way race with U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Attorney General Mike Cox. If Snyder wins, the lesson won't be that it's a great time to be a Republican moderate. Instead, three dynamics in Michigan have given Snyder a good chance even though it's a very bad time to be a Republican moderate.

First, Michigan has an open primary, so Snyder can seek independent and Democratic voters. That's key. If Florida had an open primary, Charlie Crist might still be a Republican.

Second, Hoekstra and Cox are splitting the conservative vote in a state with no primary runoff. I'm skeptical Snyder could break 50% against either Hoekstra or Cox, but he doesn't have to.

Third, Snyder, thanks to his personal wealth, has spent the most campaign cash. As Meg Whitman proved, money can do a great job hiding an ideological mismatch between a candidate and voters.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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