Over the weekend at the GOP Conference on Mackinac Island, a straw poll was held to get a sense from the party faithful who their favorites are for governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General. The intention is to poll only the paid attendees to the conference. Your right to vote is included in your $100 registration fee.
At every bi-annual conference, there are volunteers who come to the island to help get the word out and campaign for the candidates. It is not unusual to see a dozen to 50 or 60 enthusiastic T-shirt wearing college students carrying signs, handing out literature and cheering on their favorite candidate. In return, these kids usually get a free ferry ride, a hotel room and all the chicken wings and refreshing beverages they can consume. NPR has a great article online about the straw poll. Read it here.
This year, however, it was a little different for one candidate in particular. Rick Snyder's campaign brought as many as 500 volunteers to the island. (At least that is the number rumored to have registered with the Snyder campaign in the last week alone.) They were easy to spot; they all had day-glow lime green t-shirts on. You knew they weren't road builders, Mackinac Island doesn't even allow cars.
All 500 of these volunteers were allowed to vote in the straw poll because the Snyder campaign paid the $100 for every one of them. (Nice $50,000 bump for the party coffers!) What is curious is why Snyder received only 396 votes. What was even more startling was the method used by the campaign to ensure that the "volunteers" were voting properly. I happened to notice when I was up at the hotel to vote that a Snyder campaign employee was standing inside the cordoned off voting area. Each Snyder green shirt who voted had to hand the ballot card to be checked for accuracy. Once the campaign employee was satisfied, he would stamp the hand of the voter. (Can you say "card check"? So much for secret ballots...)
To nobody's surprise, Snyder came in first in the straw poll. What was a surprise was how well Pete Hoekstra did. The Congressman from Holland is not as well known statewide as Mike Bouchard who ran on the statewide ballot in 2006 or Attorney General Mike Cox who has been elected statewide twice. Pete did not pay the way for 500 campaign workers, in fact, I saw a relatively small number of shirts with his name on them. I guess Pete received 219 votes because delegates actually liked his message and performance in the debate. Bouchard and Cox virtually tied with 300 and 298 votes respectively, very impressive indeed.
In the race for Secretary of State, Michelle McManus did very well. She garnered 404 votes; Sen. Cameron Brown, 311; Calhoun County Clerk Anne Norlander, 248; and Paul Scott, 212. So what is the deal with Paul Scott? He is a 26-year old freshman lawmaker with all of 9 months experience in elected office. Here is the inside story. The same organization that is "master-minding" the Snyder campaign has also recruited Rep. Scott, apparently convincing him that he is a viable candidate. So the word went out to the Snyder army that while voting for Snyder for governor, they should vote for Scott for SOS. Obviously, barely over half of them did. Get all the results here.
Incidentally, I had a brief conversation with one of the green-shirted volunteers. When I asked her if the guy she was supporting was going to be the next governor, seriously, her response to me was, "Who's that?" I replied, "You know, Rick." She had a blank look on her face. I pointed to her shirt and continued, "Rick...Snyder." She looked down at her shirt, her face brightened and she said, "Oh, yeah, duh. Gee, that was a real blond thing to do, wasn't it?" Here is a YouTube from Right Michigan that further illustrates the point.
Well, its early. What counts is not the straw poll. That was really just a fund-raiser for the Republican Party. What matters is leadership. We will find out in the coming months who those leaders really are. I think we have some very good candidates to consider.