Besides unknown candidates who only poll in the single digits, Michigan Democrats face a tough choice in the 2018 gubernatorial election: a candidate who stirs memories of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 failed campaign and another who could portray himself as the Michigan Democratic Party’s Donald Trump.
Michigan’s top Democrat admitted to the Associated Press in June they need to learn lessons from the 2016 election. But there is one other defeat that should be in their history books: the historic thumping then-Gov. John Engler (R) gave attorney Geoffrey Fieger (D) in 1998.
Fieger’s name was known in every household in Michigan in the 1990s. His fame came from working as the attorney and spokesman for Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a pathologist who helped 130 people commit suicide.
But Engler beat Fieger by more than 700,000 votes, 62 percent to 38 percent.
Twenty years later, Fieger is considering another run for the top office in Lansing,
“I’ve watched this state deteriorate to the point at which we can’t travel our roads. Our schools are disintegrating. We’re not paying workers what they should be paid. We’re engaging in a war on teachers,” he told WKAR.
“I honestly believe that we have had a dearth, an absence of leadership in Michigan for so many years,” Fieger added.
A Target-Insyght survey of 377 likely Democratic primary voters showed if the election were in July, Fieger would have stood an excellent chance of becoming the Democratic Party’s candidate.
The poll had Fieger tied at 35 percent with Gretchen Whitmer, a former state Senate minority leader who was presumed to be the favorite to win the Democratic primary.
Even worse for Whitmer, Fieger had the support of 50 percent of the voters surveyed in Metro Detroit. Winning there is critical in any statewide contest because Detroit and its suburbs comprised a region with 10 times the population of any other metro area in Michigan.
“The poll demonstrates where she’s weak, and it’s the same area where (Democratic nominee) Mark Schauer had problems four years ago within the urban core,” Ed Sarpolus, the executive director of Target-Insyght, told the Detroit News.
“The fact is Geoffrey Fieger can say, ‘I’m testing the waters here, I’m Michigan’s Donald Trump on the Democratic side,’ and he basically is tied with her,” Sarpolus said. “Gretchen Whitmer does not have a presence in southeast Michigan. She doesn’t have a presence in the minority communities.”
Whitmer’s weakness in Detroit isn’t her only problem. This where the memories of 2016 come into play. Liano Sharon, an organizer with the progressive group Michigan for Revolution, told MLive Whitmer is too much like Hillary Clinton.
Whitmer is a 45-year-old attorney and former state legislator who has already raised more than $1.5 million for her campaign. She was an outspoken critic of Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP.
“It’s important to note that progressives in the Democratic Party don’t have to choose between experience and (a) progressive. Bernie Sanders proved that, and I think that’s something I bring to the table as well,” Whitmer told the AP.
“You win on an aspirational message,” she added.
Fieger told the Detroit News that he is “damn serious” about getting into the gubernatorial race in Michigan and is not intimidated by Whitmer.
“I don’t even know who she is,” Fieger said. “If she was so dynamic, I’d at least know who she is.”
Michigan political consultant Howard Edelson told the Detroit News Fieger doesn’t stand a chance in 2018.
“His last gubernatorial run was a fiasco,” Edelson said. “He’s really the Democratic Donald Trump, and I think we see how that’s working out. I think more people are likely to hire him as a trial lawyer than to vote for him for elected office.”
Another political pundit in Michigan, Susan Demas, who owns the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, doesn’t think Fieger will even enter the primary.
“I’m sure that he has taken a look at the success of another very entertaining celebrity within the White House and said, why not me?” Demas said. “But I do think there are real practical concerns for him in making the leap to actually being a candidate again. I’ll believe it when I see the paperwork.”
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Fieger does get into the race, and he wins: the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing might only be the first stop for Fieger. Why couldn’t he be president of the United States?
Fieger is already running commercials to test the political waters. The Detroit Free Press reported Fieger ran nearly $200,000 worth of campaign ads in the metro Detroit area in January. Fieger used the commercials to express his fear of the Trump administration.
In the ads, Fieger described Trump as “a narcissist who may be a sociopath,” called Vice President Pence a “committed right-wing lunatic,” and finished with the tagline “2020: A Clear Vision for America.”
“If I became the governor, I’d be thinking long and hard,” Fieger told the Free Press, “because what I’m seeing on the national scene is even more frightening than Michigan, right now.”