Mich. Race Shows It's Not RIP For GOP Moderates

Rick Snyder

hide captionRepublican Rick Snyder, who is running for governor of Michigan, has kept the Tea Party movement at arm's length.

Carlos Osorio/AP

A Republican doing well this year, even in a blue state like Michigan, isn't necessarily news. But the GOP candidate for Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, did not win his party's nomination by running to the right.

He emerged from a crowded Republican field owning the political center — even attracting some crossover Democrats — and he has kept the Tea Party movement at arm's length. His campaign is being heralded as a sign that, despite the hype, the Republican moderate isn't a thing of the past.

A Midterm Forecast

NPR's Ken Rudin gives an edge to Rick Snyder in the Michigan governor race. See his predictions for other midterm races at the Election Scorecard.

Snyder, a venture capitalist, spent almost $6 million of his own money branding himself as "one tough nerd," as he puts it in ads. His message of business-like competence has trumped other issues in a state with one of the nation's highest unemployment rates and a history of government gridlock.

A Different Approach

But Snyder has ruffled conservatives with his support for allowing rape and incest victims to have abortions and for stem-cell research. He opposes gay marriage but would allow civil unions. He says a "right-to-work" law, which would prohibit workers from being required to join unions, isn't worth arguing about.

Snyder is a longtime Republican. He served as a college volunteer for President Gerald Ford. He says most people agree on what's wrong with Michigan, and Tea Partiers are no exception.

"The Tea Party people are upset about the size of government, and how government operates and not seeing a return from government," he says. "One of the reasons I'm running is I'm not happy with that. I'm upset. It's not right. The average citizen, whether you're a Tea Party person or not, is upset."

'Most Americans Remain Moderates'

Snyder's Democratic opponent is Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a traditional Democrat trying to rally his party's base with a populist message: that Snyder outsourced jobs when he worked for computer company Gateway.

"He's been part of the problem," Bernero says. "Wall Street has led the charge to outsource our jobs, and I want to see our jobs here."

Virg Bernero

hide captionDemocratic candidate Virg Bernero is trying to rally his party's base with a populist message: that Snyder outsourced jobs when he worked for computer company Gateway.

Mandi Wright/POOL Detroit Free Press

Snyder has denied that charge and, so far at least, it doesn't seem to be sticking. Recent polls show Snyder leading by double digits, with independents breaking toward Snyder. Snyder even leads among union households.

"There's been a lot of obituaries written for more-moderate Republicans, just like there have been for more-moderate Democrats," says John Green, the director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "And part of that is that we have a lot of polarization in American politics that's pulling people toward the extremes. But, frankly, most Americans remain moderate in their policy views, whether they're Republicans or Democrats, so moderates keep getting reborn."

'We'll Take It'

At a recent Tea Party rally in front of Michigan's Capitol in Lansing, most of the Republicans seeking statewide offices put in an appearance to let the Tea Partiers know they, too, consider themselves true conservatives and Tea Party patriots. Snyder was noticeably absent.

Cheryl Schultz said she didn't vote for Snyder in the primary precisely because she saw him as too moderate.

"He's not a social conservative. I think he's a fiscal conservative," she said. But when asked if that's good enough, she answered with a chuckle, "We'll take it."

And if voters like Schultz help put Snyder in the governor's office, it would once again erase the epitaph that's been written repeatedly for the Republican moderate.

Rick Pluta reports for Michigan Public Radio.

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