University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch, a lawyer and businesswoman, will be visiting the White House next Tuesday to meet with President Barack Obama and some of his political staffers to discuss a possible run for the Democratic nomination for governor.
But what would make Ilitch a viable candidate? She has little in the way of political experience. Her 2008 election to the university’s board was to a coattail office where candidates win or lose depending on which party is having a good year, thereby showing no indication of campaigning skills. She has yet to disclose her positions on the issues confronting Michigan, nor has she put forth any ideas for turning around the state’s beleaguered economy. What does Ilitch have to offer?
One thing that we do know about Ilitch is that because she comes from a rich family, her campaign would be very well financed. While Ilitch’s recent business activities include publishing Ambassador magazine and selling handcrafted jewelry, she was previously president of the family-owned Ilitch Holdings, Inc., which manages such Ilitch-owned businesses as Little Caesars Enterprises, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers and Olympia Entertainment.
The Tuesday White House meeting offers a chance for Obama and his political aides to see whether Ilitch has the substance and savvy to be a strong candidate for governor. Presidents of both parties have long sought to strengthen their party at the polls, often pushing candidates they see as strong contenders for Senate seats and governorships, while discouraging weaker candidates from running. Sometimes these moves have paid off, while at other times they have backfired.
For the Michigan gubernatorial race, state House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford) and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero have already met with White House aides, and there have been claims that the Obama Administration persuaded Lt. Gov. John Cherry, the presumed Democratic frontrunner, to drop out of the race because he was seen as a weak candidate and likely loser.
White House influence may have also been seen in the Connecticut Senate race, where incumbent Christopher Dodd, facing a tough re-election, decided to retire, with the state’s popular attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, considered a stronger candidate, almost immediately jumping into the contest.
For now, the Democratic gubernatorial primary field remains unclear, with some candidates having already announced, others forming exploratory committees, and still others, such as Ilitch and former state Treasurer Robert Bowman, mulling over the possibility of running. We may not see the field finalized until the May 11 filing deadline.