Michigan voters leery of big changes in direction

Michigan showed little appetite for drastic change in Tuesday's election, whether at the White House or the statehouse.
AP Wire
Nov 7, 2012

For all the concern about the struggling economy and the widespread cynicism about politicians, voters gave most incumbents of both parties another chance. They endorsed President Barack Obama's re-election and awarded Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow a third term. Michigan's congressional delegation stayed largely intact, with Republican Kerry Bentivolio holding the seat abandoned by former GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and freshman Republican Rep. Dan Benishek winning a close rematch with Democratic challenger Gary McDowell. The state House remained under GOP control, although by a smaller margin.

Voters also rejected proposed constitutional amendments dealing with collective bargaining rights, taxation, renewable energy and a proposed bridge to Canada — issues critics said should be settled through the give and take of legislating instead of by chiseling solutions into the state's bedrock document.

"Leave my constitution alone," Kimber Lawrence, 51, said after casting her ballot in Lansing, a sentiment voiced by many of the Michigan voters interviewed by Associated Press reporters.

In part, the results illustrate the unsurprising fact that it's tough to unseat an officeholder who isn't tainted by scandal. Incumbents have many advantages — name recognition, experience, a built-in base of support. Donations from political action committees often provide a sizeable fundraising advantage over any challenger. Former GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra never came close to matching Stabenow's campaign treasury, which enabled her to win the all-important television advertising sweepstakes.

Two years ago, a wave of anger about the lagging economy and soaring budget deficit gave rise to the tea party movement and propelled a Republican takeover of the U.S. House and the Michigan House. But with the state's economy slowly improving, those wanting to "throw the bums out" were in the minority this time.

An exit poll taken for the AP and a group of television networks showed that a majority of Michigan voters rejected Republican Mitt Romney's pitch for a new direction on economic policy, despite his success as a businessman and lingering concerns about where things are headed. Fifty-three percent of those interviewed said Obama was better suited to handle the economy and 45 percent said the situation is improving.

"I just don't see changing in the middle of the stream," said William Mullins, 62, of Lansing. "Obama had a lot to deal with when he came into office. You can't change everything overnight."

A majority also appeared to believe Obama deserves more time. Only 34 percent said lingering economic problems were the president's fault, while 57 percent blamed his predecessor, George W. Bush.

"I think he's (done) excellent work with the horrible mess he inherited," said Nancy Gray, 49, a community college teacher in Traverse City.

In at least one case, voters did opt for change. They repealed a new law championed by Gov. Rick Snyder that gave appointed emergency managers sweeping authority to fire elected leaders and tear up labor contracts in financially distressed cities and school districts. But even that outcome showed respect for tradition, as opponents of the law contended it undermined the longstanding principle of self-government.

Emergency managers "take the power too far," said Michelle Harrell, 46, a Grosse Pointe Woods attorney who usually votes Republican and supported GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. "To suddenly say 'I'm going to stop paying you' is undemocratic."

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