State - Lansing Gubernatorial candidates approach starting line

By Kathy Barks Hoffman

AP Political Writer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A former Genesee County treasurer has jumped into Michigan's Democratic governor's race.

Dan Kildee filed the paperwork for an exploratory committee Tuesday and said he expects to formally kick off his campaign in coming weeks.

"We're well beyond thinking about it. We're in campaign mode, now," Kildee told The Associated Press.

Kildee's entrance is sure to shake up a race that so far includes only Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith. Presumed Democratic front-runner Lt. Gov. John Cherry unexpectedly withdrew from the race in early January, and House Speaker Andy Dillon remains on the sidelines, although he has indicated he's raising money and is likely to get in.

A request for comment left Tuesday with Dillon campaign official Dan Mahoney was not immediately returned. Dillon didn't speak with reporters after the House recessed Tuesday afternoon.

Two other possible Democratic candidates, University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch and Major League Baseball executive Robert Bowman, talked to party activists but decided against running.

Five Republicans also are in the race to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who can't run again because of term limits.

Kildee, 51, lives in Genesee County's Flint Township and has been instrumental in recent years in helping cities such as Flint, Saginaw and Grand Rapids restore blighted areas through land banks. He helped start the Genesee County Land Bank in 2002 and now is the president and CEO of a new national land use nonprofit organization that has offices in Flint and Washington, D.C.

He spent the past month making sure the Center for Community Progress won't be hurt if he steps away to run for governor, and now is ready to campaign.

Asked how he expects to position himself in the Democratic field, Kildee replied: "The way to sort of typify the reaction to my candidacy is that I'm a real Democrat that can win in November. If you think about the other candidates, you can draw your own conclusions that maybe people don't think that both of those characteristics apply to the other candidates."

Bernero is seen as traditional Democrat with an ability to reach out to blue-collar voters but is virtually unknown outside Lansing and has a brash personality that occasionally has led to conflicts with some of his constituents.

Dillon has better name recognition around the state but isn't trusted by some Democrats because of his inability as House speaker to save state spending important to Democrats and his sponsorship of a plan that would place all public employees' health care into one system.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said Kildee has about a month to prove to union activists that he can build a strong base of support and challenge Bernero and Dillon for the nomination.

"Maybe he doesn't light the world on fire, but he's this sort of Steady Eddie guy ... the kind of Democrat that Michigan voters traditionally like," Gaffney said of Kildee. "If you're really worried about Dillon's unpredictability and you're really worried about Virgil, this is your alternative."

Kildee said last month he'll need to raise $4 million to $5 million to have a chance at winning the Aug. 3 Democratic primary.

Raising money "is still one of the big challenges for any candidate right now," he said Tuesday. "It's going to be tough, but I have enough of a sense that we'll have be able to raise money to get our message out."

Figuring out how to chart a winning campaign isn't an unfamiliar task for Kildee, who won a Flint school board election when he was only 18, spent 26 years as either a Genesee County commissioner or treasurer and oversaw many of the congressional campaigns of his uncle, U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, during the past three decades.

Dan Kildee said he's running because it's time to make "a clean break from the mess in Lansing" and give "Michigan's working people a governor who gets the job done."

Published: Thu, Feb 25, 2010

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