In the primary races for nominations to replace term-limited Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the media theater has dimmed on Democrats while they sort out who will run and get critical endorsements now that labor-backed Lt. Gov. John Cherry has dropped out.
As of this writing there are several good potentials among Democrats and only one declared candidate, Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, of Salem Township, a savvy but underfunded contender who made a failed bid in 2002.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is to announce his intentions Monday, and indications are he'll run. House Speaker Andy Dillon, of Redford Township, also appears leaning toward a run.
The current high-visibility action is among Republicans, all of whom have hit northern trails of late:
n Wealthy Ann Arbor venture capitalist Rick Snyder, who far trails in early polls but substantially leads in funding, is about to burst out of obscurity thanks to his 60-second Super Bowl TV ads and three weeks of statewide follow-up ads expected to tout his 10 plans to "reinvent" Michigan and his record as a job-creator in contrast to "career politicians."
The MIRS report in Lansing said the Super Bowl ad buy on CBS affiliates cost Snyder more than $80,000 in Michigan, including $15,000 in the Traverse City market and $3,000 in Marquette for game-time ads. In the more expensive Green Bay and Detroit markets, he bought ads in the pre-game show.
Snyder, before going Saturday to Charlevoix and to the Upper Peninsula, Friday was interviewed on WTCM's Norm Jones Show in Traverse City and spoke to Republicans in Lake Leelanau at an event attended by ex-Gov. Bill Milliken.
A theme of his campaign, emphasized last week, is that Michiganians are tired of "happy talk" from career politicians. "... We certainly have had a happy talk governor."
But, in a chat with me, he said citizens need to be upbeat about Michigan's potential -- "We're too negative on ourselves."
Snyder's U.P. schedule included an appearance as a sponsor at the Soo's I-500 snowmobile race, a Super Bowl party in Marquette and a snowmobile trip from Marquette to Escanaba with his wife, Sue, and supporters. The Snyders each have Ski Doos.
n U.S. Rep, Pete Hoekstra, of Holland, as ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has had an extraordinary ride on national TV interviews on terrorist and other issues. In January he was on ABC, CBS, NBC, the cable channels and had Michigan broadcast and print interviews.
While these media "hits" -- as his campaign calls them -- do not focus on gubernatorial issues, they have given him airtime in Michigan. His showing in those that I have seen plays to his pitch that he would be a strong leader.
Hoekstra's scheduled Saturday appearance at a several-county Tea Party rally in Presque Isle County's Onaway was one of about a half dozen he's had with those folks who are getting increasing attention in Michigan as elsewhere.
"I take questions as long as they want to shoot at me," he told me.
As for competing against the well-financed Snyder, Hoekstra said: "We clearly have two very different strategies. ... We are frugal. Some call me cheap. But we get more for the buck."
On Friday, he was the only Republican to participate in a candidate forum in Detroit sponsored by the Michigan Education Association.
n Attorney General Mike Cox, who leads in latest polling among GOP gubernatorial candidates and does well with independent voters, is getting well-deserved media attention for leading a multi-state effort by A.G.s to close Chicago-area locks to block advance of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.
While the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 19 denied the motion by Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Province of Ontario, Cox last week filed a renewed motion with the court because of new information that became available after its ruling.
"We think the court should take another look at our request to hit the pause button on the locks until the entire Great Lakes region is comfortable that an effective plan is in place to stop Asian carp," Cox said.
On Friday, in response to media reports that the locks might be closed for four days of the week and opened for three, Cox Communications Director John Sellek said:
"We have yet to see an official proposal in response to our suit, but that sounds as logical as keeping criminals in jail four days a week and hoping the other three days go well. Michigan and the other states continue to demand an immediate, full-time closure of the locks and a plan to get to a permanent separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basin. We have not seen such a plan from Illinois or the federal government."
On Saturday, Cox spoke at a rally in Southfield attended by an estimated 1,200 people, which his campaign proclaimed to be "the largest crowd gathered to date by any candidate in Michigan."
Soon to be announced: On Feb. 17, Cox and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, will have a town meeting in Traverse City on the carp issue.
Camp and Sen. Debbie Stabenow have led bipartisan Capitol Hill efforts to combat carp. They introduced the CARP ACT (Close All Routes and Prevent Asian Carp Today) and co-authored an op-ed column in the Detroit Free Press last week.
n Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a former state senator who was the GOP nominee against Stabenow in 2006, has been a frequent Granholm critic. He said her State of the State address last week underscored the void in leadership that is plaguing Lansing.
"Michigan needs a chief executive who leads from Day One, not just in Year Eight," Bouchard said. "Families continue to struggle with economic pain and uncertainty. Yet tonight is the first time we saw any sense of urgency from the Governor's Office. Only now is the governor offering any substantive proposals to rein in state spending, including several that mirror my initiatives."
Bouchard attended an annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in Traverse City last month and plans another northern trip ina the spring. Among former Republican lawmakers who endorsed Bouchard last week were ex.-Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld, a former representative and senator from Maple City, and ex-Sens. George McManus, of Traverse City, and Walt North, of St. Ignace.
n Like Snyder, Sen. Tom George, of Kalamazoo, who had a recent swing through the northern Lower Peninsula, gets only single digits in statewide polling for the GOP nomination.
But unlike Snyder, he doesn't have the funds for an advertising blitz.
Too bad. He's a thoughtful candidate, a medical doctor who has views on health care and other matters that should be part of the 2010 gubernatorial debate.
Engler vs. Stabenow?
There's speculation that 1991-2002 Gov. John Engler, currently head of the National Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C., is contemplating a 2012 challenge of two-term Stabenow.
"The rumor is that he's going to run," said longtime ex-Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob, noting those who say the Englers have been looking at lakefront property in the Laingsburg area near Lansing where several of his allies live.
Bill Rustem, who as head of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing has a good ear to the political ground, says "there's a good chance" Engler will run. He'd be a strong contender.
But John Truscott, who was Engler's press secretary from campaign start to governorship finish, said he checked on the rumors and "there is absolutely no truth to that."
We'll see about that down the line after the more immediate 2010 contests.
Meanwhile, Truscott, who is as plugged in to Michigan politics as any statewide operative practicing today, is busy as mouthpiece for Hoekstra's gubernatorial campaign.
In 2006, Truscott was campaign communications director for GOP gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos, who lost to Granholm, 56 percent to 42 percent.
That's five gubernatorial campaigns (including Engler's three) for Truscott -- known and respected in Lansing as "JT."
Civil rights ratings
In the annual Civil Rights Federal Legislative Report Card for members of Congress issued last week by the NAACP, Stabenow and Sen. Carl Levin each received an A.
As for northern Michigan's congressmen, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, got a C, while Hoekstra and Camp, along with the other five GOP members, received Fs.
It's not as though Republicans are racists. The Detroit News noted that the grades were based on votes on issues considered the "bread and butter" of the civil rights organization, including the Obama administration's health care reform and economic stimulus packages.
George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.