This is a story of three men. Three Republicans. Three future governors. From the Midwest to the Mountain West to Dixie, these pragmatists buck the talking heads’ assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by ultra-right tea partiers. Their success in primaries in three very different states is a testament to their intellectual maturity and policy gravitas – qualities that will help them demolish their Democrat opponents in November.
“One tough nerd.” Three simple words arguably catapulted Rick Snyder, former chief executive officer of Gateway Inc., to the Republican nomination for Michigan governor. In the Aug. 3 primary, this straight-talking Einstein dispatched with a state attorney general, a powerhouse congressman, a former U.S. Senate nominee and a sitting state senator. While his foes tried to “out-conservative” each other (with laughable results), Snyder stayed laser-focused on issue No. 1: the economy and jobs. In a state reeling from the consequences of the Great Recession, he cruised to victory.
In November, Snyder will face Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero: a bombastic, take-no-prisoners poster boy for organized labor. After eight disastrous years, outgoing Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm faces revulsion from her constituents – Bernero will suffer as a result. A recent EPIC/MRA poll has Snyder up 51 percent to 29 percent. The nation will watch to see if Gov. Snyder can translate his business acumen into tangible results for his crippled state. If so, he’ll be a leader in the GOP for years to come.
Two days after Snyder’s victory, Tennessee featured a rather zany Republican primary. In the gubernatorial contest, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey offhandedly quipped that Islam might actually be a cult, rather than a religion. Congressman Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) increasingly invoked the Good Lord in his television spots. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, however, passed on acrimonious rhetoric and cheap shots to focus on economic development. He destroyed his opponents on Election Day by pointing voters to his tremendous success in the energy industry and in revitalizing the state’s third-largest city.
Haslam will crush his Democrat opponent, Ned McWherter – he is leading him 56 percent to 31 percent in a recent Rasmussen poll. McWherter’s claim to fame is that his father, Ned McWherter, is a popular former governor. But nepotism won’t cut it in this red state, especially after eight years of a Democrat governor. Tennesseans are looking for substantive answers and bold leadership. Haslam has the right stuff.
Wyoming politics may not get much ink, but the Aug. 17 GOP gubernatorial primary was red hot. Outgoing Democrat Gov. Dave Freudenthal leaves with considerable popularity, but in this reddest of red states, the Republican primary was the real selection of his successor. Former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead won by the skin of his teeth, against Sarah Palin-endorsed State Auditor Rita Meyer, tea partying Ron Micheli and State House Speaker Colin Simpson (son of former Sen. Alan Simpson). Mead is about as moderate as Wyoming Republicans come, going so far as to flirt with the merits of levying an energy tax. His issue-oriented campaign was a model of precision and focus. Mead has positioned himself to be the Republican Freudenthal, and could very well be the next great Western statesman.
So what’s the point? Snyder, Haslam and Mead all had one thing in common: personal largesse. Each was an aggressive self-funder, and will continue cutting checks through the election. Flush with cash, their campaigns snapped up critical airtime, and churned out top-notch get-out-the-vote operations.
Second, while each is generally considered a “moderate” (at least compared to their primary opposition), not one of them secured a majority. Rather, all three, benefited from their opponents viciously fracturing the hard-right vote. Haslam won 47.3 percent, Snyder 36.4 percent and Mead only 28.7 percent (a mere 703 votes ahead of Meyer). Were they running in states mandating a run-off (like South Carolina or Georgia, where Republicans battled it out in bloody gubernatorial run-offs), more conservative candidates might have emerged victorious. These victories should not be dismissed though, as they still demonstrate the dynamic ideological diversity of the GOP.
A final common characteristic is that Michigan, Tennessee and Wyoming have each been governed by Democrats for the past eight years, and will each – barring jaw-dropping miracles – be governed by a Republican come next January. The GOP is in it to win it; no turf is too rough, no context too daunting. On Nov. 2, a Republican landslide could very well be rooted in the quality of their gubernatorial contenders: from Oregon’s Chris Dudley to Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin to Vermont’s Brian Dubie. So the next time you catch someone kvetching about how Republicans are all tea partiers, tell them that soon-to-be-governors Snyder, Haslam and Mead beg to differ.
Sam Dulik is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at sdulikthehoya.com. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.