U.S. Rep. Candice Miller has an incredible knack for surprise campaign announcements.
On August 11, 1999, Ms. Miller, a Republican from Harrison Township and then the secretary of state who was widely anticipated to challenge then-U.S. Rep. David Bonior in 2000, sent out a news release declaring she had decided not to run. It was a huge blow to the Michigan Republican Party, which loathed Mr. Bonior and had intently recruited Ms. Miller to challenge him.
I can still picture the scene in the Gongwer office. John Lindstrom, then the lead reporter on the Michigan Senate, pulled the release off either the printer or fax machine, and walked into then-Gongwer Vice President Larry Lee’s office.
“Well, this is a kick in the ass,” John said to Larry, holding the release in front of Larry’s face.
Larry’s response? “Oh my.”
A similar scene played out Wednesday when a release rolled into our inboxes from Ms. Miller declaring she would run for Macomb County Public Works commissioner. That’s essentially the drain commissioner but with a snazzier title.
The immediate question was obvious. Does this increase or decrease the likelihood Ms. Miller will run for governor in 2018? Ms. Miller and her spokesperson would only say that she is focused on the public works commissioner race.
But in talking with people well-versed on campaign strategy -- and to be clear, they do not have any inside information as to Ms. Miller’s thinking -- they say there is no question this week’s events mean she will not run for governor in 2018.
The analysis is simple. If Ms. Miller planned to run for governor, upon exiting Congress in early January 2017, she would be unencumbered to immediately begin campaigning. She could travel the state and visit every Republican Party function and more from Niles to Erie to Sault Ste. Marie to Ironwood in preparation for an expected epic battle for the nomination with Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, none of whom has said they are running, but all either expected to do so or seriously entertaining the idea.
Instead, if she wins the public works commissioner job, she would have to stick to Macomb County and, you know, do the job to which she was just elected. Ms. Miller assuming that office and then launching a statewide gubernatorial bid, as she would have to do relatively early in 2017 would look bad, not to mention make the task of running for governor much more difficult by having less time to spend campaigning.
If Ms. Miller indeed has decided not to run for governor in 2018, that is huge. Her entrance into the race would have made it more difficult for Mr. Calley, and to be clear he already will have the same inherent difficulty any lieutenant governor has trying to succeed their governor, let alone the issues the Flint water crisis will present, and would have created an epic match-up with Mr. Schuette for the GOP nomination.
It also would have complicated Democratic hopes of winning the race. Ms. Miller’s strength in southeast Michigan, tremendous popularity and residual name recognition from her years as secretary of state from 1995-2002 would be formidable if she won the Republican nomination.
The sense I get from Democrats is they would relish taking on Mr. Schuette. Yes, he has significant strengths, the Democrats would acknowledge. But I think Democrats feel confident about one of their top potential candidates, like U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) or former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), matching up with Mr. Schuette for votes in vital Oakland County. Ms. Miller, however, would be very formidable in Oakland and make the Democratic path to victory much harder.
Keep in mind, of course, that trying to project the political atmosphere in 2018 is tricky, and all we can do at this point is look at how candidates match-up on paper in the context of today’s political environment. If Hillary Clinton is elected president this year, for example, it stands to reason that 2018 will be an extremely challenging year for Democrats nationally after 10 years in the White House.
And in the end, we simply don’t know what Ms. Miller intends to do.
I do know this much: If Ms. Miller wins the public works commissioner job and sometime in the late winter/early spring of 2017, an email rolls into our inboxes declaring she is running for governor, it won’t be the first time she has made our eyes widen and prompted “wows” with a campaign announcement."