Friday, October 06, 2006

DeVos first to stumble in Michigan governor's race

Jack Lessenberry says everything I wanted to say about the debate- but I have a few additions.

And in his first debate Monday night against the incumbent, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, he turned in the worst performance by a major candidate for governor that anyone can remember.

Dude, that's harsh. But possibly true, I don't know. I've never watched any other debates for governor.

Though Michigan's unemployment is the highest in the nation, though the economy is bad and sure to get worse, it was the challenger who was on the defensive.

That's because he's lying, but he hasn't raised it to an art form yet.

He seemed evasive. He looked uneasy. Viewers thought he needed a shave. He might have been expected to charge out of the box, and attack the governor for failing to bring new jobs to Michigan.

There is something not quite right about Dick, and I'm having a heck of a time putting my finger on it. It's in his eyes. It's in the way he moves. Other people have noticed it too, and have mentioned a discomfort with his physical presence- like there is something underneath the surface that makes them very uneasy about him.

Something wicked this way comes.

Lessenberry goes on to point out the Bush-like debating technique of simply repeating key words, no matter what the question.

But he didn't. Looking faintly nervous, the 50-year-old former head of the Amway (now Alticor) Corp. repeated, over and over, the term "leadership," which he said he would provide. You might have expected him to recite some of the numbers which tell the story of a state in economic trouble. The climbing unemployment rate, the jobs lost with more layoffs coming.

The 47-year-old governor has in the past promised better times and made economic predictions that haven't come true - and the challenger might have been expected to zing her with her own words.

Instead, he merely repeated, "leadership." When the governor attacked him, he said, over and over, "That's disappointing."

"He has a good team. They did everything they could to prepare him," said a high-ranking former GOP media consultant. "But Dick was off riffing on his own."

I have a feeling that Dick doesn't take direction well. Just a hunch. He has never had to follow anyone's orders, except perhaps from his father. And maybe Betsy. It suggests an arrogance that does not bode well for a position that needs give and take to be successful.

Next, watch Dick dance on the issues. I picked up on this, too- he evaded nearly every question.

The SBT-

But Dick DeVos on his feet seemed to be something else again. He seemed short on specifics. Asked about the legislature's decision to abolish the Single Business Tax, which raises $1.9 billion a year for the cash-strapped state budget, he said "I'll replace more than half of it," but was unable or unwilling to say how.

And on social issues-

Instead, he seemed to try to evade a direct answer. Finally, he admitted how he felt about abortion - and to the governor's presumed delight, threw in that he also opposed embryonic stem-cell research. The coup de grace came, however, when the governor chided Mr. DeVos for not making his tax returns public, as she has.

And then the bottom fell out-

When he replied that he had released a comprehensive statement of his holdings and investments, she pounced.

Why, she asked, had he concealed from the people a $170 million investment in Alterra Healthcare Corp., a Wisconsin-based nursing home/assisted living center chain that faced allegations of patient sexual abuse, and declared bankruptcy?

What was the challenger's answer? "Tragic," he said. "And it turned out to be a bad investment as well," he added.

Sitting at home, one could feel the DeVos managers cringe. For the next three days, newspapers had front-page stories about the candidate and the nursing home chain. In one hour, the governor had changed the conversation and caused her challenger to spend days on the defensive.

She's good. Something tells me this is one woman you don't want to piss off. She can turn that famous sunny charisma and wield it like a sharp knife when she wants to, but somehow that quality is used against her. There have been rumblings about Granholm's performance, and they indicate that sexist attitudes still exist.

Albin quoted Sarpolus as saying her demeanor turned off some Democratic women, but he also said that DeVos turned off some Republican men. Skubick focused on Dick and how he handled her being a "her".

His advisers made sure he did not cross that imaginary and often dangerous line when contending with a female opponent.

I can't wait for the day when none of that matters, but apparently we aren't there yet.

People complain that she hasn't been aggressive enough, but when she gets aggressive, it turns people off. She has to walk this very fine line.

But then again, so does Dick.

Round two next Tuesday night.