Michigan's Death Star

Gov. John Engler and George W. Bush have mobilized their imperial forces in the Wolverine State. Can rebel John McCain fight his way through?

Topics: George W. Bush, Republican Party, John McCain, R-Ariz.

It helps to have friends in high places. And for the past two days in Michigan, George W. Bush‘s powerful friends — mostly loyalists of Gov. John Engler — have been turning out in droves. In the end, Engler’s political machine, with its formidable ability to mobilize and bring out voters, could spell doom for Sen. John McCain‘s insurgent campaign.

In his last full day of campaigning Monday before the Michigan primary, Bush’s itinerary roughly traced the same route traversed by McCain the previous day, taking him from Detroit to Lansing to Grand Rapids. But the similarities ended there. McCain’s events were well attended, but the crowds were nothing compared with the numbers Bush drew. Bush’s rallies, buoyed by the support of the state Republican Party, were jampacked and had the feel of official party functions. By contrast, McCain’s events felt like loosely organized political rallies.

At Michigan State University in East Lansing, where McCain drew a meager crowd of about 400 on Sunday, Bush attracted more than 1,000 supporters. The Kellogg Center overflowed with young Republicans waving Bush placards; chowing down on enchiladas, they flooded the room with the din of clanking silverware and glasses that is typical of Bush events. An Ingham County Republican Party banner hung prominently behind Bush as he spoke — the kind of official support that was notably absent from McCain’s campaign stops.

This is because Bush has the endorsement of nearly every Republican elected official in Michigan. While McCain totes around Joe Schwarz — president pro tem of the state Senate and his only supporter in the Michigan Legislature — Bush campaigned Monday with Gov. Engler and Secretary of State Candice Miller. In all, 21 of the state’s 23 Republican senators and all 58 Republican state House members have backed the Texas governor.

Bush’s ground operation also crawls with Engler staffers and loyalists. Everyone from Geralyn Lasher, Bush’s Michigan spokeswoman, to Del Chenault, his state events director, has direct ties to Engler. “There are certainly a lot of us,” said Dave Doyle, a former Engler media consultant who has cut radio spots for Bush here.

Bush’s Michigan State event was organized by Sylvia Warner, who serves on the Ingham County Republican Party’s executive committee and is on the staff of Republican state Sen. Mike Rogers. She said her group turned out more than 1,000 people for Monday’s luncheon, nearly 25 percent of the people she said have contacted the Bush campaign about volunteering in the county.

“The party calls for Bush show him up about 5 to 1 here,” Warner said. “We have a huge volunteer base here, and there’s a real sense that the momentum is building.”

In Ingham County, the Bush phone bank effort is spearheaded by Martha Truscott, vice chairwoman of the county party and wife of the governor’s press secretary. Her husband, John Truscott, who was shopped out to reporters at the Michigan State event, said he expects volunteers to make “a couple hundred thousand” phone calls to help get out the vote statewide. “Gov. Engler has led the effort here,” Truscott said. Other elected officials, including Secretary of State Miller, Lt. Gov. Richard Posthumus and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Buchard, have been instrumental in organizing Bush’s efforts in the Wolverine State.

“They’re all friends,” Truscott said. “These are the people you have to know to win an election in the state of Michigan.”

McCain has tried to use Bush’s strength against him, and still likes to say he is “Luke Skywalker trying to fight his way out of the Death Star.” The anti-establishment crusade has been one of McCain’s major campaign themes, and it is principally responsible for his appeal among Democrats and independents.

While the candidate rages against the machine on the stump, McCain strategist Mike Murphy discounts the power of Bush’s Engler endorsement and ground operation. “The days when a governor could just deliver a state on a silver platter are long gone,” said Murphy, a Michigan native who has done media work for Engler in the past.

On that point, Engler and Murphy agree. “Talking about the Engler machine is about as helpful as talking about the George Bush coronation and about as accurate,” Engler said. “You can build an organization by recruiting people, but the word ‘machine’ implies that somebody hypothetically could, like some machine operator, give the command or punch the right key and something happens. That’s not the way politics works. That day is long, long past.”

Call it what you will, the fact remains that Engler, one of Bush’s earliest boosters, has been aggressively courting party leaders and the endorsements of other Republican governors for Bush, though he jokes that he has not been exercising his political muscle to do so. “There are no broken limbs here today,” Engler quipped. “Bush has been a very easy sell with a lot of our citizens — people both who hold elected office, or just citizens who care about the next president. The local, grass-roots effort is as good as I’ve ever seen it.” Engler was instrumental in organizing Bush’s precinct captains in all 83 Michigan counties.

The state Democratic Party has levied charges that Engler has “broken the law” in his efforts to deliver Michigan for his fellow Republican governor. Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said Engler stepped over the line by using official government offices as contact numbers for Bush phone bank efforts, which is a violation of state electoral law. “The firewall is collapsing, the governor is grasping at straws and, in his desperation, he is breaking the law,” Brewer said. “How low will this governor stoop to ensure a political win for Bush?”

Brewer’s statement is certainly political hyperbole. While ethically marginal, it is common practice in all elections for elected officials to dispatch their staffers to help out with campaigns for their political allies. Though it is illegal for state employees to get paid for campaign work while on the clock, it is unwritten law that campaign staffers commonly take “vacation time” whenever election day draws near.

Now that the latest polls have the race in a deadlock, many here believe it is the Engler organization that may put Bush over the top. “If they’re doing all the things they say they’re doing, with the mailings and the phone calls, then I think Bush is going to pull this out,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

McCain has tried to do an end run around Bush by appealing to independents and Democrats, the way he did in New Hampshire and South Carolina. As they did in South Carolina, the Bush forces here are sending out mailings warning that “liberals and labor leaders want John McCain to be the Republican nominee,” in an effort to rally the Republican base.

Meanwhile, some Democrats, including political stuntman Geoffrey Fieger, former attorney for Jack Kevorkian and the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, have made an explicit anti-Engler push here, hoping to turn Tuesday’s vote into a referendum on the governor by encouraging Democrats to vote for McCain.

But Bush seems to be getting more mileage out of the Democratic efforts than McCain. At every stop Bush assails the efforts of “Kevorkian’s lawyer,” hoping it will galvanize the Republican base in Michigan, just as it drew record numbers of conservatives to the polls in South Carolina.

“Again, it’s almost like a zero-sum game,” said Ballenger. “They’ve been able to use this information to scare the hell out of Republican regulars that their primary is being hijacked.”

Meanwhile, McCain has sent mailings to Democrats and independents letting them know in capital letters that they can vote in the Republican primary Tuesday “and still participate in Democratic Party activity.”

“That’s pretty shameless,” Engler said. “It’s pretty transparent, what they’re trying to do.”

In the end, Ballenger said, the Engler/Bush organization may help to sink McCain simply because of one factor: time.

“I don’t think McCain has time to recast Bush as a hostage of the Christian right. If he had two weeks and he could put an ad up, that would be one thing. But you can’t go around the state making speeches and hope that’s picked up and replicated by the news media,” Ballenger said. “You can’t do that in the space of 24 hours. All he can do is run frantically around the state and try to energize his base. But it’s much easier for Bush to energize his base of Republican regulars than McCain. Getting Democrats and independents to turn out in a Republican primary is a bit like herding cats.”

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>