By now, everyone's heard that President Barack Obama (unsuccessfully) asked New York Gov. David Paterson to step aside because the White House doesn't feel he can win. There's a fear that he'll drag the party down with him in 2010, especially in down-ballot congressional races.
So the question in Michigan is: Will the president play here, too? The White House has signaled it plans to play hard in state races beyond New York, already getting involved in Virginia and Colorado.
Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry is the frontrunner in 2010 for the state's top job, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm is term-limited. She also leaves a hard legacy to overcome, with 63 percent disapproving of her job performance. Cherry has been the LG for seven years and previously served as Senate majority leader. But there are serious problems with his candidacy.
Paterson is down 17 points in general election polling and a whopping 46 percent in a primary. Could it really be that bad for Cherry?
Actually, yes. In a May Detroit News poll, Cherry only scored 9 percent in the Democratic field. When given a choice of candidates, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) lead him by 35 points. The good news for Cherry is that Stabenow has said she's not running, but she"s not endorsing him, either. In an August poll by the Democratic firm Denno-Noor, Cherry only scored 19 percent with Stabenow absent from the field. House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township), who has not decided to run, received 7 percent.
Republicans have a strong, six-person field and there's a lot of pessimism about Cherry's chances among Democrats right now. Still, conventional wisdom says that Dillon, a moderate Democrat, can't win, especially after alienating unions over a health care pooling idea that's upped his statewide profile. Cherry has strong statewide institutional support and plenty of Democratic interest groups.
But what if the White House is a wild card? The president knows how to read polls. There is serious concern in Michigan that Cherry could hurt the chances of two freshman congressmen, Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and Mark Schauer (D-Battle Creek) -- who only won by 2.3 percent. Joe Biden said just this week that if the GOP makes big congressional gains in 2010, the Obama agenda is finished. The Dems would like to flip the state Senate, which has been firmly in Republican hands for 25 years. With Cherry at the top of the ticket, that could be a harder task. And although the Democrats hold a 24-seat advantage in the state House under Dillon's leadership, there are still worries that the GOP will make significant gains next year.
The White House could decide to bet on Dillon under these circumstances and quietly ask Cherry to bow out. That doesn't mean it will work any better than it did with Paterson, but it sure makes the race interesting.
Consider the fact that Dillon was an early Obama backer, whereas Cherry and Granholm were two of Hillary Clinton's biggest supporters until the end of the bitter primary fight. Dillon has ties to the White House through a former staffer and has talked with the administration about his health care proposal. It's interesting that Biden and administration officials like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have showered Granholm with praise at public events. But even though Cherry has been there, too, they"ve barely acknowledged him.
As the poster child for the economic collapse, Michigan is not a state the White House wants to lose its grip on. Obama will have to decide if it's possible to keep the Great Lakes State blue by backing John Cherry.