It may be hard to remember now, but nobody thought Rick Snyder would ever be governor.
When he announced he was forming an exploratory committee roughly eight years ago, the Capitol press corps collectively yawned. In polling for a five-way GOP primary matchup, the former Gateway CEO fell within the margin of error.
Everyone knew the race was going to come down to Republican Attorney General Mike Cox and House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford).
Everyone turned out to be wrong.
In 2010, Snyder released his memorable “One Tough Nerd” Super Bowl ad. He showed he was willing to kick in over $5 million from his personal fortune. And he made a late appeal to Democrats and independents, which paid dividends.
Thanks to money, strategy and some luck, Snyder ended up winning the August primary by 9 points and went on to trounce Democrat Virg Bernero in the general election. And despite controversies over Snyder’s conservative agenda, which included Right to Work, he won re-election in 2014, albeit by a far smaller 4 point-margin.
But that’s still a pretty impressive track record for someone with zero political experience who no one initially took seriously.
So after the success that unconventional candidates like Snyder and now-President Donald Trump have enjoyed, it’s kind of curious that most political observers are banking on a conventional scenario for the next Michigan gubernatorial race.
With Snyder term-limited, the jockeying for 2018 has already begun in earnest. If you ask politicos, they’ll tell you they expect the Republican race to be between now-Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, while giving the former the edge.
That’s not a bad bet to make, especially on the GOP side. Most Republicans seem content with those two choices. Calley is young, energetic and speaks the language of the religious right. And Schuette, who’s been elected to positions in every branch of government, is known for hitting the campaign trail in beast mode.
Lesser-known names like state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) and Dr. Jim Hines may broaden the field, at least until they have to pony up 15,000 valid signatures next April. But so far, there’s no big self-funding candidate like Snyder on the horizon.
The Democratic side, however, could be more fluid than people think. Some of the party faithful are waiting for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to jump in and clear the field, but as of now, he’s playing the role of Godot.
Former State Board of Education President John Austin has long been interested in running, although his defeat last year may give voters pause. And Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is keeping his name out there.
There are some intriguing and and relatively unknown hopefuls, like William Cobbs, a retired Xerox executive from Farmington Hills, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a Rhodes Scholar and former Detroit health director.
The real wild card is the passionate Bernie Sanders supporters who swarmed the Michigan Democratic Party state convention earlier this month. Both Kildee and Whitmer will battle over these voters, but they can’t change the fact that they’re firmly ensconced in the establishment.
Democrats seem to be desperately searching for change. That could mean there’s room for a Snyder-style darkhorse hopeful in the gubernatorial primary who could really shake things up.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.