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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Game Changer

The Michigan GOP may finally have hit bottom  last week.  It wasn’t one last act of outrageousness, but a move of a different sort: Terri Lynn Land dropped out of the Governor race, and endorsed Mike Bouchard.

The move certainly shocked some observers throughout the State, but to those who have been following her press trail it was only a confirmation.  As an early front runner, there was surprisingly little in the way of commentary about the economic storm clouds heading Michigan’s way.  Where Peter Hoekstra tacked, and Mike Cox spoke forcefully about the auto crisis, she kept her peace.  And other observers have suggested that she didn’t seem to have the ideas and fire for a gubernatorial campaign.

No desire?  Or desiring something else?

There is other evidence however that she has a different office in sight.  Cranson and Golder at The Press suggest as much.  Could this be a play for the Lt. Governor’s spot, a quid pro quo?  A Bouchard-Land ticket would bring some definite strengths.  Of course, it may simply be that Bouchard’s east side connections are sufficiently deep enough that some third party will benefit, making the endorsement a sort of three-way play.

More intriguing has been the notion that she has her eye on the Third Congressional seat centered in Grand Rapids.  The endorsement of Bouchard puts her in contrast to the national partisan ways of Hoekstra, and on the side of pragmatic government – the very ideals the voting public associates with Rep. Vern Ehlers. And even in a redrawn map, this would be a highly winnable seat for a moderate Republican.  Of course, if the map gets sliced the way Peter Bratt intends, Land would have to move back to her native Grandville.

The gift.

Land’s endorsement of Bouchard’s candidacy lifts the Oakland County sheriff to the top tier of contenders.  Her moderate creds and lack of baggage elevates Bouchard’s standing in the GOP drop out contingent — those independents who fled the party in 08.  And just as important, she provides Bouchard with a campaign network centered in western and southern Kent County.

This network is certainly the significant resource.  As a practical matter, it means that Hoekstra will need to pay more attention to W. Michigan; and by expanding Bouchard’s reach beyond the east side, it forces Macomb resident Cox to devote more time and energy building his own team in the West. While the endorsement offers tactical advantages, its real impact is strategic.

Bouchard, the one-eyed king.

Up until now, the GOP has been seething with a sort of blind partisanship, where Hoekstra and Cox have pursued the tough guy Republican vote.  Hoekstra brings his strong populist and political instincts backed with national flair.   His tweets have revealed him to be an engaged, anti-Obama warrior, our man on Fox.  Meanwhile, Attorney General Cox has been countering with some testosterone conservatism of his own, appealing to the tea-baggers and calling for a non-tax (and so all-cut) pledge – the basic Senate Republican strategy.

By contrast, Bouchard has played a more pragmatic role. He is a sheriff, part of a partisan ballot, but seen as less partisan and more public servant.  And even though he is every bit the fiscal policy hawk as Cox, to date, his videos have focused  practical economic issues, not so much the philosophic.

This stance can be seen in his US Senate run, where he ran weakest in the GOP populist neighborhoods, e.g. the West Side of Grand Rapids,  and strongest measured by share of independent vote in the economically conservative regions of the county: Cascade Grand Rapids Twp., and East Grand Rapids.  In this light, his proposed university-private partnerships as an economic development tool stands in sharp contrast to Cox’s tax-cut solution.

Strategically, Bouchard has placed himself closest to the center, and thus the most likely of the three candidates to benefit from any recovery.

Land’s gamble.

With her endorsement Land is making an implicit bet that the mania currently gripping the GOP will abate and that when it does, returning conservatives will look for a candidate like Bouchard.  It is a gamble.  The GOP could pursue its madness deep into the electoral season, but  is also a gamble that Democrats should pay attention to: Bouchard has already positioned himself to take advantage of this recovery.

In a primary season with no action on the Dem side (the Cherry – Alma Wheeler battle being foregone conclusion, one not likely to generate attention) those interested in the state may be tempted to walk over and vote R.  This will be especially true if Cherry doesn’t hold the once-GOP voters who crossed over to vote for Obama or dropped out. For these voters, a pleasant Bouchard would be preferred over  the sheer partisan craziness of the other two candidates.

This same moderate appeal increases the difficulty of partisan pigeon-holeling of Bouchard.  Dems face the challenge of developing a second, more policy-oriented approach in the 2010 campaign.  And that wouldn’t be a bad thing for the State.

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