One of the mysteries of the primary season was T. J. Carnegie, the (evidently) favored son, designated to challenge Robert Dean. As July wore on it became increasingly clear that despite his early endorsement by The Grand Rapids Press and the Chamber of Commerce, Carnegie was lagging in his race. The financial reports gave a grimmer story: money was short, the financials were late, hand-written rather than electronically filed.
So what had happened?
Sunday’s Press provided us the answer: it seems that Carnegie had only bothered to vote once in his entire life. It’s not surprising that electoral politics then posed a challenge. And on top of it, he was a late starter (Burdo had filed in January, Tietema in March). Given the low turnout of the primary coupled with the high name recognition, this is not disastrous, but still it’s not a good sign in terms of an election.
Yet there is something else nagging me, here.
A different Republican face
What is striking about the Republican slate in the 75th is how they are already moving away from business as usual (unlike, say in the 72nd). All are under 40, a decade younger than Dean. Of them, Dan Tietema is the most conventionally Republican, but also paradoxically one of the smartest in presentation. You have to love some one who would post a call for volunteers on craigslist, especially a call that is oddly ecumenical:
This is a fantastic opportunity to explore political campaigns, especially with such an exciting presidential race on the horizon. Local campaigns are grassroots run. Our operations will provide a heavy dose of experience if you’re looking to move on to the Obama or McCain campaign. Many simply like to quench their sense of civic duty. I will sign off on any internships, in addition I will write letters of recommendation for employers or other campaigns, or possibly extend an offer for paid positions for the general election campaign.
I love political creativity, but at the end of the day, Dan is pretty conventionally Republican
Then there’s Michael Burdo. He gambled with this campaign, playing to his strength of knowledge on healthcare. As the civic discussion veered in other directions, this focus robbed him of the kind of urgency that could attract volunteers and cash. As the pre-primary financials revealed, he is largely self-funded. But again if we step back we see another Republican wanting to pick up the policy angle. If we back away from the hyper-partisanship of the recent era, then policy expertise may gain a foothold in our civic life.
And lastly, there is T. J. Carnegie. Less what he stands for than what he can be, Carnegie is one of the new faces of a new generation of African American leadership. In youth, personal history and manner he culturally echoes Obama, and like Obama points to a post-civil rights era of racial relationships. The continuing conservative-black alliance in the community coupled with the reluctance of Democrats to walk away from older urban models of leadership has thus created an opening for Republicans.
(It should be noted,this is an opening they will be delighted to walk through. One of Carnegie’s key backers is Ginny Seyferth. Her public relations firm, Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson, boasts an impressive client list, including Heritage Academies, Bethany Christian Services, the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids, and the Chamber of Commerce. Carnegie is an investment).
Tonight, Tietema should carry the election. Mechanically, he has executed his campaign well. But he represents an older and rejected model of GOP politics. The future, those “dialog partners” for the Democrats, lies far more with Burdo and Carnegie.
For all three, the Second Ward will be the key. A second territory to watch would be the neighborhoods around IHM (Burton and Plymouth). Strong inroads by any candidate there would also be an indication of the campaign to come.