Debate: Nerd survives Angry Mayor (The Michigan View 10.11.10)

Posted by hpayne on October 11, 2010

Wixom – The Angry Mayor threw the kitchen sink (actually the outhouse toilet) at The Tough Nerd.

In the only debate of the 2010 governor’s race, Virg Bernero’s challenge was to try and drag Rick Snyder off his white horse – the legendary, iconic white horse of a successful entrepreneur rising to the people’s rescue in difficult times – and into the muck. Once there, Bernero might have a fighting chance. “The Chief Executive Outsourcer,” said Bernero, dropping his bombshell, had not only outsourced Gateway’s jobs to China but was vested in a company called Discera “that had shipped jobs to China.”

“Mr. Snyder,” said the Angry Mayor in his angriest smolder, “how could you?”

Snyder might have answered that Symmetry – a company that Bernero credits himself with bringing to Lansing – has outsourced hundreds of jobs to the Far East to make its medical devices. He might have pointed out that Discera is a small startup of 41 employees that has opened a tiny, 5-man office in Shenzhen to serve customers there. Or he might have laughed at Bernero’s flat-earth protectionism, pointing out that, were it not for General Motor’s massively profitable investment with Chinese government-owned Shanghai Motors, the Detroit Company would not be able to finance UAW pensions.

But Snyder stayed firm in his saddle. He said Discera was an Ann Arbor-based company that “does not have an operation in China” and that the Center for Michigan’s “Truth Squad” had found Snyder’s ad claims of Gateway outsourcing “simply untrue.” Then he returned to his tested, positive platitudes that “I am the only job creator in this race.”

The refusal to jump into the mud and beat some sense into Bernero’s empty head will disappoint those (like me) who crave these teachable moments. But by staying the high road, Snyder won this debate and locked up the election.

In the end, this was a debate played on Snyder’s terms. Recognizing that this is an election about job creation in Michigan’s worst economy in a generation, Bernero has made this a contest of who can create more jobs. Yet despite reading from the GOP playbook on job creation, low taxes, and balanced budgets, The Angry Mayor cannot win this game. Snyder’s American success story of growing tiny Gateway Computer to a 10,000-employee behemoth in the 1990s is his trump card.

Bernero has tried to puncture that resume by caricaturing his opponent with a pampered-rich-guy-who doesn’t-care-about-you-but-loves-foreigners campaign.

But the rich guy charge is ridiculous on its face: Why would a multimillionaire take a $172,000 public employee job if he didn’t care about Michigan? And Snyder is no trust-baby, but a self-made man who “grew up in a 900-foot square home in Battle Creek” as Snyder reminded the TV audience.

And the foreigner bashing? Tasteless. Consider: Bernero himself is the son of Italian immigrants. If his father were Chinese he would have to disown him.

What a difference four years makes. In 2006, Jennifer Granholm – another silver-tongued Democrat – wiped the debate floor with Dick Devos, a job-creating businessman trailing in the polls and challenging her Big Government ways. Granholm bashed him on sending jobs to China, and selling out Michigan women on abortion and other social issues.

But this is “a different economy, a different environment,” says Saul Anuzis, who was Michigan GOP Chief in 2006. “This year, 56 percent of voters rate jobs the #1 issue. The next closest issue ge ts only nine percent.”

In tonight’s debate, social issues merited just one question 50 minutes into the hour-long debate. Tonight, Michigan’s unemployment rate has swelled from 7 percent in 2006 to 15 percent. Tonight, the businessman who created jobs is up 20 point in the polls.

He’s on his white horse and Michigan prays he has a plan.

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