Mike Wilkinson, DETROIT NEWS STAFF WRITER
After making job creation his No. 1 campaign theme, former corporate executive and venture capitalist Rick Snyder has been made Michigan's next CEO.
By a wide margin, voters have turned to the political novice to reshape the state's business climate in hopes of regaining the jobs that have evaporated by the tens of thousands.
Early results, combined with exit polls, show Snyder tapped into voter discontent across the state and with independents in earning a victory that will send the millionaire to Lansing.
Just two years after turning to Barack Obama to save the state from economic disaster, Michigan voters turned to the former Gateway CEO — and it appears he will be followed to Lansing by a number of fellow Republicans.
"Welcome to the Republican victory party," gushed L. Brooks Patterson, the Republican Oakland County executive, as he took the stage at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel. "The clean sweep party."
Bernero conceded just after 10 p.m., admitting he couldn't stem the tide of Republican resurgence that swept Michigan and the nation in today's election.
The Lansing mayor waged a campaign against a better-funded candidate. In addition to the $6 million of his own money that Snyder poured into his campaign, post primary filings showed Snyder took in $3.4 million in donations, compared to about $737,000 for the Lansing mayor.
"It was a fight, my friends, worth fighting," said Bernero, flanked by his wife, Teri, and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, his running mate.
Bernero thanked his wife and daughters Kelly, 22, and Virginia, 19, and the thousands of volunteers who campaigned for him. He promised to keep fighting for "Main Street vs. Wall Street", which was the theme of his campaign.
"It's what I'll always do, stand up for Main Street," he said. "Our campaign may end tonight but our work standing up for regular people will go on."
Bernero noted that Snyder has said he will be a moderate Republican and work to advance the interests of the middle class. If Snyder fulfills that promise, Bernero said, "I will work with him hand in hand.
"If he doesn't," Bernero added, "you and I will be watching, won't we?"
In addition to Snyder, the GOP looks to be retaining the seats of attorney general and secretary of state while possibly claiming control of the state supreme court.
The leads of the other Republican candidates are narrower: Attorney General candidate Bill Schuette is leading Democrat David Leyton 59-36 percent while Secretary of State GOP candidate Ruth Johnson is leading Democrat Jocelyn Benson 57 to 38 percent.
Leading in the race for the state supreme court are incumbent Bob Young and newcomer Mary Beth Kelly, both Republicans.
Snyder energized Republican voters, took independent voters 2-1 and cruised to a victory that will thrust the political newcomer into the role of Michigan's top executive.
"I want to bring an attitude of crisis to Lansing," Snyder said as he arrived at the Westin. "Not a crisis of panic, but a crisis of determination."
He had made jobs his No. 1 campaign thrust and has held a sizable lead over since polling began. But with polling precincts just having closed in most of the state it'll be hours before everyone finds out just how much more control will be given to Republicans.
Snyder likely tapped into a simmering rage seen here and around the country at how the last two years have gone. In Michigan, unemployment rose from 10 percent to over 14 percent since its voters strongly endorsed President Obama in 2008. Exit polling conducted by Mitchell Research and Communications showed more than 60 percent of respondents agreed they were "mad as hell" — and Snyder was supported by roughly 75 percent of those voters.
"I think I want a governor for change, and Rick Snyder is that guy," said Shirley Hartert, 66, of Grosse Pointe Woods.
The same youthful electorate that helped craft President Obama's victory didn't materialize. "They simply didn't vote," said Steve Mitchell of Mitchell Research.
In addition to the governor's seat, much is at stake: three state-wide offices, the Supreme Court, and both the state House and Senate. By tomorrow morning, Democrats are expected to be scrambling for answers.
Snyder, who spent $6 million of his own money on the early part of his campaign, was confident that the numerous polls preceding Election Day would be true and that victory was at hand. Snyder said he would be ready to work with everyone on finding solutions to the state's economic mess.
Snyder, 52, although a newcomer to politics, said he is not taking victory for granted but is encouraged by what he has heard from voters around the state.
His opponent Bernero has continued to work traditional Democratic constituencies, including union workers and African-Americans, as he continued his "Main Street vs. Wall Street" theme in which he rails against the excesses of the financial markets.
Despite the ominous signs that Bernero could be looking at a crushing defeat, the upbeat former debate champion said he was still positive — and chided Snyder in the process.
"It ain't over till it's over — and that means 8 o'clock tonight," Bernero told volunteers in Lansing. "While my opponent is out measuring the curtains in the governor's office, we're out working — we don't have coronations in this state."
In 2008, Obama garnered more than 57 percent of the vote in the state, getting 824,000 more votes in Michigan than Arizona Sen. John McCain. But the state's unemployment rate still exceeds 13 percent; 130,000 more people are out of work now than when Obama won the presidency.
Observers will be watching closely to see if Republicans, who already control the state Senate and had control of the offices of Attorney General and Secretary of State, gain control of House. Currently, Democrats hold a 64-42 seat lead, with four vacancies.
With control of state government now off the GOP's "to-do" list, the sights are set toward Washington. "The other half of this race starts tomorrow when we reclaim the presidency in two years," Patterson said.