EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 24, 2006, issue of National Review.
On John Kerry’s final campaign swing through Michigan in 2004, supporters gathered in Detroit for a last-minute rally. Stevie Wonder sang a few songs and Democratic politicians gave a few speeches. “If you are somebody who has lost a job, you need to vote for a change,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Many Michiganders took the governor’s advice — Kerry won the state 51 percent to 48 percent — but Granholm may have a hard time living down her words: They are now displayed prominently on the state GOP’s website, and it’s a sure bet they’ll stay there until November, when Granholm faces an electorate that continues to reel from job losses and very well may issue the governor her own personal pink slip.
Many Republicans around the country are anticipating an election year that’s about as successful as a typical Detroit Lions football season. Democrats are poised to do especially well in gubernatorial contests: Of the nine races that don’t feature an incumbent, eight of them involve choosing a successor to a Republican, and most will be competitive. Yet Michigan may wind up brightening an otherwise dismal year for the GOP. Although November is far off, two new polls show Granholm running neck-and-neck with Republican challenger Dick DeVos, a deep-pocketed businessman who is well-liked by conservatives. The race could become one of the biggest upsets of 2006.
It was supposed to be easier than this for Granholm, a 47-year-old golden girl who was recently the toast of her party. She’s a smashing combination of Charlize Theron looks and Ivy League brains: Granholm is a former beauty queen who once appeared on The Dating Game and thought of becoming an actress before attending college at Berkeley and law school at Harvard. She married a man from Michigan, worked as a prosecutor in Detroit, and launched a winning campaign for attorney general in 1998. Four years later, she ran to succeed term-limited Republican governor John Engler, bested seasoned politicians in the Democratic primary, and drew national media attention. The Baltimore Sun labeled her “the ‘it’ candidate of 2002,” and Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift bubbled about how she was “positioned for stardom.” Granholm’s victory was closer than expected — a controversy over her pandering endorsement of slave reparations took a bite toward the end — but she won nonetheless. Democrats were so delighted that they had her deliver a response to President Bush’s weekly radio address before she was even inaugurated as governor.
Granholm was suddenly a political celebrity. She won a prominent role at the Democratic convention in 2004, and she seeped into popular consciousness in ways other politicians can only dream about. “She’s a ringer for Marilyn Monroe,” gushed Elle, the fashion magazine . . .
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