State - Lansing Candidates hone strategy as summer campaign begins How much a candidate can spend on TV ads may be decisive factor

By Kathy Barks Hoffman

AP Political Writer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan voters may be thinking more about summer cabins and beach walks than yard signs and campaign fliers, but the seven men running for governor are putting plenty of thought into how to attract the most votes in the Aug. 3 primary election.

Among the five Republicans, Attorney General Mike Cox hopes big-time endorsements from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and hard-hitting ads against some of his opponents will enable him to clear out the competition and become the GOP front-runner.

Former Gateway CEO Rick Snyder hopes his barrage of largely self-financed TV ads and stance as a moderate political outsider will help him snatch the win if GOP conservatives split their votes among the other Republicans in the race.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra is counting on the strong west Michigan support he has earned during 18 years in Congress and some help in southeast Michigan from supporters such as U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Macomb County's Harrison Township.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard is relying on his popularity as a sheriff and former state senator in one of the state's biggest vote-getting areas and his choice of a west Michigan running mate, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, to nab the win -- along with a possible stumble by one of his GOP rivals.

State Sen. Tom George, the GOP underdog, is making his mark with catchy one-liners and a willingness to attack the budget plans floated by his opponents as pie-in-the-sky, noting at a recent debate that "This is Mackinac Island, not Fantasy Island."

On the Democratic side, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is hoping support from some of the state's largest unions and an image as a champion of the working people who's not part of Capitol gridlock will bring the party faithful his way.

House Speaker Andy Dillon has better name recognition than Bernero in southeast Michigan, a closer relationship with moderate business and labor groups and the niggling fear among some Democrats that Bernero's feisty temperament could be a liability in the general election to help him along.

Even with their strategies in place and all the campaign consultants, pollsters and press secretaries working for them, the candidates aren't drawing a lot of interest as Michigan voters head into summer.

In a recent EPIC-MRA poll, more than half the 600 likely voters polled didn't even recognize Bernero, Dillon or George's names. More than 40 percent said the same of Snyder, even though he has spent more than $1 million on TV ads.

The Democratic race hasn't yet had a head-to-head matchup between the two candidates or seen single TV ad, so it's not surprising half of likely Democratic voters are still making up their minds who they'll support. On the Republican side, 17 percent haven't made up their minds, but their choices could prove fluid as the election nears.

Don Roberts, a 40-year-old information technology professional from Livonia, is among the likely GOP voters who remain undecided.

"I'm still shopping," he said after attending a Snyder campaign event in Novi last week.

The winning strategy could end up being less about the candidates and their messages than about how much money each has for TV ads. Candidates are eligible for far less in public campaign funds than in the past because state lawmakers raided the public financing fund to balance the budget. And the poor economy has made it hard for candidates in either party to find supporters who feel flush enough to donate.

Voters waiting to learn about the candidates from TV ads or campaign fliers can count on getting deluged in late July in the weeks leading up to the primary election.

Until the campaigns reach that stage, however, candidates are going to be trying to win over supporters and cash with steady campaigning -- and strategies they'll keep tweaking as Election Day grows near.

Published: Tue, Jun 15, 2010