I’m sorry but no. We can’t blame this on Obama. And we can’t blame it on Detroit voters not turning out at the polls either.
Not this time.
When my wife and I showed up at our polling place early Tuesday morning it was the first time in memory that both of us had to wait for a booth to open up, and then wait again in line to hand our ballot to a poll worker to get inserted into the machine to be counted. This was a crowded polling place in the ‘hood in Detroit in a mid-term election first thing in the morning, OK? We weren’t voting for mayor. We weren’t voting for Obama. There was no Detroit-specific issue on the ballot that lit a fire under our sometimes lax sense of civic duty and participation. The only big issue was getting Gov. Rick Snyder tossed out, and Detroit voters showed up to the polls in large numbers. As in 31.4 percent of all 529,000 registered voters. I can’t say for sure, but these have got to be pretty close to unprecedented numbers. Normally we’re doing good to crack into the double digits, and that’s during a presidential election year.
But we lost.
So let’s begin with the first thing, namely that Democratic challenger Mark Schauer was never what you’d call a shoo-in, or even a particularly exciting or attention-getting candidate. For awhile there I think it was even safe to say he was a bit of a longshot against incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder. Incumbency does count, and Michigan is hardly a strong blue state, regardless of what President Obama managed to accomplish in 2012. You only have to look at the wacked-out Republican majority in the Michigan Legislature to figure that one out. So Schauer was facing an uphill battle to begin with.
But an uphill battle does not equal a political death sentence. Just ask the President of the United States.
What went wrong, then? I wouldn’t pretend to be astute enough to assume I have the definite answer. The Detroit Free Press has their take on it, which makes some uncomfortably valid points that must be considered. Although I thought their backhanded and reluctant endorsement of Snyder was strange and somewhat bizarre to say the least, it is nevertheless true that Schauer didn’t have a strong enough resume coming into the game, and he didn’t work hard enough to make up for that gap. Which he easily could have done, because Snyder certainly left the door open more than a crack for a well-orchestrated left-wing attack. Schauer had the right ideas on the issues, and progressives understood he was on our side of the fence, but he didn’t really manage to hit a stride until fairly late, and even then it wasn’t enough of a stride. Said the Free Press:
Schauer was an unlikely candidate, a former state lawmaker and one-term congressman from Battle Creek with no exemplary record of accomplishment, no signal legislative victories.
That didn’t have to sink his candidacy.
Schauer and (Democratic Party Chairman Lon )Johnson insisted on making this election a referendum on Snyder, at the expense of a clear platform of alternate ideas. And the plans Schauer did articulate read like a liberal wish list, but the former congressman was never able to say how he would make his plans a reality — specifically, how he’d pay for them. It was an arrogant insult to voters, an assumption that Michiganders would be satisfied with scant details and wouldn’t look beyond the surface.
So yes, we could have used a stronger candidate. Or let’s say we could have used our candidate to come on stronger than he did. That might have mobilized more Democrats outside of Detroit, because normally if that many Detroiters turn out during a midterm I’d say this race should have been one heck of a lot closer than the 4 point race it turned out to be to say the least, and probably should have been victory. Something to consider is that the race wound up this close even with those weaknesses. I watched the polls narrow from a 13-point Snyder lead down to the 4 points that it eventually became. If I were Snyder I wouldn’t feel quite so vindicated as the Free Press suggests he should. Rather, if I were Schauer, I would consider what could have – and should have – been.
But here’s the other thing; the issues that should have mattered the most and motivated a surge of outraged voters wound up being essentially forgotten about and shoved to the outside corners of the rearview mirror. Snyder is a thief and a liar. He stole democracy and urinated on voting rights when he ignored the will of his own constituents and steamrolled an emergency manager law through the legislature during a lame duck session within months after his own constituents voted to repeal the legislation. He initially signaled he had no intention of implementing Right to Work, then turned on a dime and rammed that through as well. At the time there was plenty outrage about all of this. Plenty.
But that was two years ago.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.