Insider Interview: Michigan's GOP Chairman Handicaps the '08 Primary
In 2000 Michigan was John McCain's last stand. In 2008 it could be his final hurdle to the Republican presidential nomination.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis says the organization that the Arizona senator used to best George W. Bush six years ago is still largely in place, making McCain the only prospective GOP candidate with an active campaign infrastructure in the state. "Right now McCain is clearly the guy to beat in Michigan," Anuzis said.
That doesn't mean that McCain is the only Republican spending time and attention courting voters in the state. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was born in Michigan and whose father served as the state's governor from 1963 to 1969, is active in Michigan, along with New York Gov. George Pataki and Sens. Bill Frist (Tenn.), Sam Brownback (Kansas) and George Allen (Va.), according to Anuzis.
The timing and composition of the 2008 Michigan Republican primary is still uncertain due to the possibility that the state will be selected by the Democratic National Committee to move its primary to earlier in the cycle, between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
If Michigan is passed over by the DNC, the Michigan Democrats and Republicans would hold their primaries on Feb. 5, 2008, according to Anuzis. In an attempt to keep Democrats from crossing over in droves to vote in the Republican primary (and vice versa), each person will be required to pick a party primary in which to cast a ballot.
If the DNC moves up Michigan's primary date, Anuzis and the GOP state committee would likely keep its primary on Feb. 5 but would try to make it a closed affair -- meaning that Republicans would likely dominate the voting. (Michigan does not have party registration, however, so Democrats and Independents could still participate if they so chose.)
Much rides on the DNC's decision, said Anuzis. In a semi-open primary the electorate will be larger, meaning campaigns will need to emphasize television advertising and name identification -- and, theoretically, that would benefit McCain. A closed primary, however, would be largely composed of Republican activists, making organization absolutely essential. Anuzis said activists will want to have "touched the candidate [and] talked to the candidate"; "It would really be a grassroots campaign."
Anuzis should know; he has been in and out of Michigan politics since the early 1980s when he fell in with a young Republican staffer named Dick Posthumus. Anuzis wound up managing Posthumus's successful race for the state Senate in 1982 and became a top aide for the up-and-coming politician. (Anuzis made two unsuccessful runs of his own for state House during the 1980s while serving as an aide to Posthumus.)
In 1991, Anuzis left politics to form his own telecommunications company. He sold it in 2000 and started another telecom firm.
Anuzis's reentry into politics came in early 2005 when he was recruited into the party chair race to challenge former state Rep. Andrew "Rocky" Raczkowski, who had been endorsed by Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob -- a key supporter of McCain's in 2000. Anuzis rounded up endorsements from former state party chairwoman Betsy DeVos and key members of Congress to claim the party chairmanship. (Raczkowski dropped from the race several months before the 2005 vote.)
In the 18 months since his victory, Anuzis has turned himself into an encyclopedia on budding 2008 GOP primary; he's even got his own blog.
McCain? Anuzis said the Arizonans has Ron Weiser, the state party's finance chairman, on his team. Weiser has already brought a number of fundraisers who collected cash for Bush in 2000 and 2004 into the McCain fold and hosted several fundraising events for McCain, said Anuzis.
Although Yob has not formally committed to any candidate in 2008, McCain's Straight Talk America PAC is paying his son -- John -- as a consultant, and the conventional wisdom is that Yob is already on board for McCain, along with Republican National Committeewoman Holly Hughes. "[McCain] is the only one in the state today that actually has an organization of any kind on the ground," said Anuzis.
Romney is the "number two guy" in the state thanks to his status as the "adopted guy" in the state, said Anuzis. John Rakolta, the chairman of Walbridge Aldinger, a construction company, and the no. 2 finance person at the state party, is with Romney -- a major get in the Michigan fundraising world. Aside from Rakolta, Romney has just hired the Sterling Corporation to handle his political interests in the state; Katie Packer, who is a vice president at the firm, ran Posthumus's unsuccessful bid for governor in 2002 and previously served as political director for the 2000 reelection race of Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), which he lost. Romney lost a key cog in his operation -- both nationally and in Michigan -- when Trent Wisecup decided to leave the operation in March.
While McCain and Romney are in a class of their own at this point in the state, Anuzis spoke favorably of Frist, whom he said has been in the state several times -- including a trip last summer where he was ushered around by state Attorney General Mike Cox (R). Anuzis described Frist as a "solid, serious type of candidate."
Brownback has done a series of events in the western part of the state and will be back in Rep. Joe Knollenberg's 9th District for a Reagan dinner later this month. Not surprisingly, Brownback has been "very popular with religious conservatives," who are heavily congregated in the state's west, said Anuzis.
While Anuzis and other party activists are keeping a close watch on the 2008 contest, they also see two major opportunities for the party this November. Wealthy businessman Dick DeVos, the husband of the former state party chairwoman, is challenging Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). And three Republicans are vying for the right to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in the fall.
Anuzis believes that the continuing struggles of the Michigan economy -- the result of a depressed auto industry among other factors -- creates "one of the bright spots on the national scene" for Republicans. "People here are very upset and are looking for alternatives," he said.
May 1, 2006; 8:33 AM ET
Categories: Eye on 2008 , Insider Interview , Republican Party
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