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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.

Saul Anuzis
McCain has an early lead for 2008, according to Mich. party chairman Saul Anuzis. (Courtesy Michigan GOP)

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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 1, 2006; 8:33 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Insider Interview , Republican Party  
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In 2000 Michigan was John McCain's last stand. In 2008 it could be his final hurdle to the Republican presidential nomination.
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Posted by: apartments krakow | September 26, 2006 4:54 AM | Report abuse

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Rugby laws mentioned on this site. It's a gripping sport which targets the grip strength and the active mindedness of a player. American football and rugby league are also primarily collision sports, but their tackles tend to terminate much more quickly. For professional rugby, players are often chosen on the basis of their size and apparent strength and they develop the skill and power over the passage of time. In modern rugby considerable attention is given to fitness and aerobic conditioning as well as basic weight training.

Posted by: Rugby Fan Steve | August 25, 2006 4:55 PM | Report abuse

In case readers come in here before Sunday, May 27, I want to remind you than both Condi Rice and McCain will be Fox Sunday. Check your local listings.

There is a huge movement to get Condi on the ballot in New Hampshire, and S Carolina, California and Texas. Add Florida too. In addition, the Condi group is building support in Iowa for the January 2008 caucus.

There are also 2 books coming out about Condi soon, maybe even 2006. One is being written by a fellow from Newsweek, and another is being written by a woman from the New York Times to worked as a reporter in the State Department. So those books will be very interesting to help people know about Condi, how she became so successful in life with her father or a husband clearing the way for her.

Any honest and trustworthy poll of the Republicans for 2008 is including the name of Condi Rice. She is doing her job in the State Department and can run on her accomplishments whenver she decides to toss her bonnet into the ring.

Posted by: Tina | May 19, 2006 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Note to mingo fernandez, there are many Republicans being considered for 2008 besides McCain and Rudy,
they are Frist, Hagel, Huckabee, Condi, Pataki, Romney, and Brownback.
Right now, they are being viewed by political leaders, state leaders, and voters in the Republican party. California is a huge state and the Republican party is leaning toward Condi there. Iowa is wide open, so in 2007, you can bet all of those Republicans and a few others from the Democrats will be flying and driving in with a few million to build support.
Politics feeds the economy of Iowa, filling up hotels and resturants, and during the past year, millions have already been spent. It is just a start.

Posted by: Sally | May 12, 2006 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Funny how the media jacks up McCain, calling him the frontrunner and such. Based on what? He has money? Frist has millions and George Allen has millions. There are 10 Republicans running/kinda running/being drafted.

The media calls this a "horserace", so let's dissect what factors come into play. Polls? the National polls show Rudy, Condi, and McCain in the 20's. That is at least 60% of the voters supporting these 3 leaders, and all others come in at 10% or less. Money? Frist has millions but is low in the polls, so he will need to spend it to come up in support. George Allen has millions and Newt Gingrich is making millions on his book sales, which adds to his ability to speak on Fox TV as a political analyst. Condi has support from numerous groups with money to put her name on the ballots, and then you have Huckabee, Hagel, Romney, and Pataki. The 2008 GOP political pie is being divided and tugged now, but in 2007, the shoot opens with all 10 Republicans being asked, begged, or praised to run. Right now the grooming of leaders is right in front of all of us. So do some research and don't swallow all the garbage of the leftwing.

Posted by: Hank | May 12, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

McCain is the King of the media, big whoop. He is lucky the people of Arizona keep sending him to the Senate, but in state polls, with real Republicans who vote, he is low on the totem pole. The political pie and the money being shelled out to 10 or more Republicans running or (like Rudy, Newt, and Condi) not running, it leaves a huge hole for McCain to jump over if he thinks he will win the delegates needed for winning the nomination in 2008. it is time for a delegate battle, so let the games begin.

Posted by: Hank | May 12, 2006 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Michigan needs to have both primaries on the same day, let the Dems select their candidate and let the GOP select theirs. In 2000, Al Gore already had the nomination locked up so cross over Democrats got a good laugh helping McCain pee in the punchbowl, so to speak. The reason we have a primary in the state is to stop the backroom deals, and instead let the people vote. The back room deal of 2000 gave Gore a weak challenger like Bradley, instead of a stronger leader like Bob Kerry, or Evan Bayh, daring to challenge the sitting VP. it would have made Gore fight harder and act more like a human, WAIT A MINUTE, I am glad Gore ran, he lost his home state and the entire South. but again, the Democrats failed to get some backbone in Gore and that is why he lost.

Posted by: Linda | May 3, 2006 12:58 PM | Report abuse

McCain's biggest problem in Michigan is his henchmen Yob,Yob & Company.

McCain is attempting to move to the right, but if Yob is with him, I'm not.

Romney, too early, to many unanswered questions.

Allen, like his style - we'll see what he has to say.

Brownback, made a good impression when he was here, waiting to see more.

Newt, got to love the guy, but can he win?

Pataki, haven't met or heard him, but from NY?

Guliani, love the Mayor, scared of the President???

Democrats and Independents should NOT be choosing the GOP standard bearer. The party should make appropriate changes to reflect the view of Republicans. Maybe Yob can come up with a plan, since he's "neutral".

Posted by: mel | May 3, 2006 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Saul is a very kind (and optimistic) man. McCain was salt in the wound for Engler and the Dems had the last laugh. McCain is tainted goods. He will get crushed by the facts spilling out. Yob, Schwarz and the log cabin moderates are lining up against the conservatives and think they can do it again. Not so fast......we've seen this episode before.

The only ones that have resonated here are amongst the unvocal majority GOP base have been Brownback and Allen.

Everyone looks at Romney with "one eyebrow raised" due to mandatory healthcare and the abortion record. Rudy is a pro-abort and favors same sex unions. Newt is too polarizing. Frist doesn't have a pulse.

It's a sad crop.

Should we start the "Anyone but McCain website yet?"

Posted by: Mark S. | May 3, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Anuzis hit it right on the head in Michigan. The lemmings will drink the water when McCain's the only one in town. He's great until you can compare him with someone else. Besides, Yob does more to hurt McCain than help him.

Romney will swing some but not enough with that tattered record.

Insiders and policy wonks will say Allen. Populists will back Rudy G.

This is what Primary's are for. Give it 6 months for folks to get their ground games going after November and I think you'll see a drastically different landscape.

Posted by: Dennis C. | May 3, 2006 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!

Posted by: simper fi! | May 2, 2006 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Both McCain and Romney seem to have alienated their party. McCain has sponsored probably unconstitutional election "reform," challenged the president on torture, joined and helped the Gang of 14, been typically soft on immigration as a border-state guy. that last position alone could spell the end of him in Republican politics. But Romney, though a Mormon bishop, has finished a weak tenure in Massachusetts capitulating on numerous social issues that will haunt him for the next couple years. Neither can win an enthusiastic following among Republicans.

But who else is there? Rudy?? Someone else?

Posted by: mingo fernandez | May 2, 2006 3:04 AM | Report abuse

TO Dan W:

Well Edwards has positioned himself as the liberal alternative to Hillary. He has campaigned heavily for the small guy, he has worked with many state legislatures to raise the minimum wage, has fought poverty, and has offered a vision of hope, promise, strength, and future prosperity for America. His work on the Select Comm. on Intelligence and the Foreign Policy think tank has given him the foreign policy experience he needs as President. By numerous polls, he has the highest crossover appeal than any other Democrat. He gives America the hope and strength it has not seen since JFK, and offers the progressive policies that has not been seen since FDR.

Evan Bayh balanced state budget, created 350,000 new jobs, expanded education and healthcare, lowered crime rates, and helped alleviate those out of poor during his eight years as Governor of Indiana. He ended with an 80% approval rating in a very Republican state. In his eight years as Senator, he has been a leading voice on the Select Comm. On Intelligence, and Armed Services Comm. and is the all around most qualified sound Democrat in the bunch. His record his unmatched on both sides of the aisle.

Governor Mark Warner, reformed education, invested in infastructure, turned a six billon dollar deficit into a surpluss, created jobs, made Virginia the most prepared state for a biological or terrorist attack, and has expanded healthcare to almost all Virginians. His hardwork payed off, he was rated top Governor in America by Time Magazine, under his leadership Virginia was rated best managed state in the nation, he won national education award for reforming Virginia's education program and ended office with an 80% approval rating in a Red State.

So, I support these Democrat not because of them being moderates and their proven ability to win in Red States, but for their records. (By the way Edwards is not exactly moderate just a principled liberal that offers solutions benifiting all Americans) Hillary's record does not compare to the records of Edwards, Warner and Bayh.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | May 2, 2006 2:02 AM | Report abuse

Romney flip flops on abortion and gay marriage. There is no way he survives a Republican primary in Michigan, despite all of his sycophants saying "his positions have evolved, he was just responding to the people of Massachusetts" - whatever. Nuanced positions on these issues spell doom for candidates. Even McCain is more consistently conservative on these issues than Romney is.

Posted by: Sandy | May 1, 2006 9:43 PM | Report abuse

This blog is not promoting the middle, it seems to be a cheerleader for McCain. Every report in this blog is favoring McCain and like the rest of the media, the media seems to be seduced by his maverick style and use him to keep clobbering on the head of President Bush.

Posted by: Patty | May 1, 2006 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Peter is correct, Al Gore clobbered Bill Bradley early on in 2000, so that left the Democrats to skip and jump over to the GOP side and vote for McCain. If Michigan decides to have a registered voter decide which party they are voting in on the day of the primary, it would restore the integrity of voting for a party candidate. The only reason Dems and liberals wanted to vote for McCain is that they hate the GOP, and as long as McCain is trying to kiss the butts of all the GOP voters, he looks like a panderer, not standing for anything. We all remember how he tried to undermine President Bush on Iraq and tax reform. If he runs, I am not voting for McCain. Lots of other real choices right now, even Frist is a better choice than McCain and I don't like Frist either.

Posted by: Sally | May 1, 2006 4:20 PM | Report abuse

And Bill Richardson. Don't forget about him.

Posted by: The Caped Composer | May 1, 2006 2:55 PM | Report abuse

PopulistDemocrat: What can you tell me about Edwards, Bayh and Warner?

Is it just me or do these boards always seem to evolve into coversations about the middle.

Posted by: Dan W | May 1, 2006 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I would not necessarily agree with that having Republicans, and by looks of 2004 only moderate Republicans voted in primaries. Well I have no reason to believe that the Republicans would have a cordinated attack of telling their voters to vote for say Hillary Clinton, the weakest general election candidate because we would do the same. Plus, I think the average Republican voter is very scared what a Hillary presidency would bring and would not risk voting her in. I think moderate Republicans who are concerned about the far right's direction of the country, McCain's appeal to the far right are warming to the idea of a principled Democrat like John Edwards, Mark Warner, or Evan Bayh. I am not saying all of these Dems are moderate but they all seem to have practical solutions to fix America and seem to have morals, and values that these swing Republicans would look for. Like Dan W. said that very soon mod Repubs are going to walk to the left to find a candidate they can stomach that just shows the Democrats need to find a candidate that can satisfy the left, moderate and reach out to those Repubs who want to go left. Hillary does not fit this bill, McCain used to, but John Edwards, Evan Bayh, and Mark Warner fit the bill nicely.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | May 1, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I am one of the unenrolled that McCain must impress and he is slipping with me. I can't stand his journey to the right.

Very soon the mod Reps are going to start walking to the left to find a candidate we can stomach.

Posted by: Dan W | May 1, 2006 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Senator McCain has an uphill road in the Republican primaries.

His anti-free speech BCFRA and the "Gang of 14" alienated conservatives. His immigration reform positions turned off the nativist Perotistas and Buchanazis who might have been drawn into the mainstream from the crawdad creeks they occupy. His support for the war and an aggressive foreign policy lessens his appeal to potential crossover Democrats in open primary states. His strong right-to-life record precludes enthusiasm from the "moderate Republicans."

No doubt the Senator has p*ssed off all the right people. Still, if it was a media primary, he would win in a walk. They all seem anxious to get on that bus . . . just what IS he serving on there, anyway?

Posted by: Adjoran | May 1, 2006 1:21 PM | Report abuse

PopulistDemocrat, I'm afraid that your strategy of seeing which Democrat had the greatest appeal to Republicans would backfire. Republicans would cross the line to vote for the Democrat that they deemed to be most easily beatable in the general. And Democrats would do the same for the Republican candidates! In the current, viciously partisan political climate, an open primary would backfire for everyone.

Posted by: The Caped Composer | May 1, 2006 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Isn't this all just a waste of time, since McCain is damaged goods among moderates after his latest sellouts?

Posted by: Will in Seattle | May 1, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Media, fix your political comments to encourage voter opinions based on merits.

Romney is as much in the picture as McCain, and do not even begin to pre-empt without admitting that is what you are doing.

Politics is supposed to have CAMPAIGNs and PUBLIC VIEW>

You think you are more than the voters, and you tell them what to vote! Stop that.

Posted by: Elizabeth Ellis | May 1, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Without Democrats and Independents voting in the primary it will make it harder for McCain to win. I don't think it is a bad idea for the Democrats to have Michigan as an open primary because it can show us which Democrat has the most cross over appeal. We need to be able to court moderate Republicans and this would be a good chance to find out which one does. In 04 John Edwards won over a strong showing from moderate Republicans in the state and Kerry was unable. In the course of the general election Edwards was more liked across the board and it became clear he was the better candidate. In 2008 if Michigan is earlier without any Democrat with front runner status the better candidates will actually win. It will root out bad candidates like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or John Kerry and allow good candidates like Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, or John Edwards to win.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | May 1, 2006 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Very true, Lois and Peter. I was a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during the 2000 election, and I proudly counted myself as one of many Democrats who voted for McCain in that primary. In heavily Democratic Ann Arbor, there was a lot of support for McCain in the primary (even if most of those who voted for him in the primary went on to vote for Gore in the general.) In addition to the Engler factor, plenty of us-- especially students from out of state who were not steeped in Michigan politics-- voted for McCain simply because we would have rather seen him get the nomination than Bush. As McCain steadily marches rightward, he is obliterating his appeal to those who would cross the line to vote for him. Winning Michigan-- or winning any state primary in '08-- won't be so easy for him.

Posted by: The Caped Composer | May 1, 2006 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Peter. The reasons McCain did so well last time were that Michigan had an open primary in 2000, many independents preferred McCain to Gore and many Democrats crossed party lines in the primary. Word got out that Engler had said that he would hand Bush Michigan on a silver platter - motivating anyone in the state who, by that time, was sick to death of Engler to vote for McCain.

So, any predictions about 2008 based on 2000 are more than a little premature particularly given things like Sen. McCain's defense of Jerry Falwell.

Posted by: Lois from Michigan | May 1, 2006 10:14 AM | Report abuse

How does one determine which states are actively looking to move their Primaries up in the calendar? The Fix mentions MI, I understand that OK, AL, and GA are considering.

Posted by: GL | May 1, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

One of the common bits of wisdom in these here parts is that McCain won in 2000 ONLY because Democrats and independents were voting in droves in this primary. And that might just be true. The Dem party in Michigan did not have a caucus or primary that year; it simply annointed Gore. So, for Democratic activists and other liberals, there was nothing else to do but vote in the Republican primary, which by that time was whittled down to just McCain and Bush. In fact, there was an ad hoc group called "Detroiters Out to Get Even with Engler" who encouraged Democrats to vote for McCain in the Republican primary as a way to make the governor look bad, since for months Engler had stumped heavily for Bush.

Posted by: Peter from MI | May 1, 2006 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Welcome to's The McCain Fix, where you'll get your fix of all-McCain all-the-time.

There's just one name that The Fix knows no one can do without for just one day - McCain, so let The Fix be your one stop shop for everything McCain.

Because if it's not about McCain, it's about nobody important.

Posted by: corbett | May 1, 2006 9:11 AM | Report abuse

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