DETROIT – State Attorney General Jennifer Granholm cruised to victory in the Michigan governor’s race last night, defeating Republican opponent Dick Posthumus – an outcome that surprised few observers.

She didn’t look back after her surprisingly easy win in the August Democratic primary over two seasoned political veterans. Few observers thought Posthumus, the outgoing lieutenant governor from Kent County’s Alto, would have much of a chance against her. He easily won the Republican primary, but was rarely able to get within 10 points of Granholm in recent polls and never held a lead.

“Today we won a victory not for one candidate, not for one party, but for the future of our state,” Granholm said in declaring victory a little after 11 p.m. At the same time, Democrats were hoping they would be able to hold onto the attorney general’s office, which Granholm was leaving, but results were not available and most of the party had disbanded by 4 a.m.

In Lansing, some of the Republicans who had campaigned for a Posthumus victory were in tears as the lieutenant governor mounted the stage in the Radisson Hotel’s ballroom to tell them it was over.

Posthumus, nonetheless, urged supporters to remember all was not lost. Much of the vision he stood for will go on because of Republican victories in the legislative, executive and judicial branches, he said.

“This campaign was not about Dick Posthumus,” he said. “It was about ideas of freedom, ideas of lower taxes, ideas about creating jobs and opportunities for people no matter where they came from. Those ideas were worth fighting for, and they’ll be worth fighting for tomorrow.”

In her favor was voter disenchantment with the policies of Republican Gov. John Engler and a heavy Democratic enthusiasm over controlling the governor’s office for the first time in 12 years and only the second time in 40.

Following the primaries, the campaign took a sharp turn to the negative, with Granholm accusing her opponent of wanting to privatize the Blue Cross/Blue Shield health care plan and tying him to the Engler administration, which she said “blew” a $1.2 billion surplus.

Republicans chided Granholm for her tenure as corporation counsel to Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara, accusing her of approving numerous no-bid contracts for work at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which at the time was fully under the jurisdiction of the county executive.

Her opponents said the attorney general could not be trusted when, during an October debate, she said she did not “want” to raise taxes. Nevertheless, Granholm promised a general change in state policies, ending the “divisive politics of the past” – a reference to the Republican campaign, and a general acceptance that it was time Michigan elected a woman as governor.

“Never relinquish the high ground we claimed and you held so well,” Granholm told supporters at the Democratic victory party, at the Renaissance Center Mariott Hotel in Detroit.

Former Gov. James Blanchard, Engler’s predecessor, echoed many last night when he said the toughest problem the new governor will face will be the state’s budget deficit, estimated to be over $1 billion over the next few years. During her campaign Granholm said she would cut all state departments’ budgets by 5 percent.

“She’ll have to clean up this huge financial mess. It’s been brewing for years,” Blanchard said, putting the blame squarely on Engler.

Blanchard, who was governor from 1983 to 1990, advised Granholm to “conduct a thorough, outside, independent audit of the state’s books” – one of his promises when he sought the office again this year, pulling third to Granholm and U.S. Rep. David Bonior in the Democratic primary.

Granholm, a relative newcomer to state politics, won her first race for office in 1998, when she narrowly defeated her Republican opponent for attorney general and thereby avoided a GOP sweep of the state’s executive offices, with Engler and Republican Secretary of State Candice Miller overwhelmingly winning reelection to their respective offices.

Her defeated opponent was first elected to the state Senate in 1982 and rose to the post of majority leader following Engler’s 1990 election. He was the longest serving governor and became a fixture in Republican but was unable to capture the voters Engler had in his three elections.

“We finally have a situation where we can change the politics of the past,” Kilpatrick said.

Posthumus said Granholm co-opted many of his stances – especially his philosophy on taxes – into her platform, ensuring they will continue.

Despite the loss, he emphasized his service in Engler’s administration. He said the departing governor guided the state well and thanked him for his leadership.

Addressing the man he had hoped to succeed, he said, “Your legacy will live on for many years, and I’m proud to have been part of that legacy.”

Granholm was the most formidable candidate the Democrats have fielded in decades, Posthumus said.

He added two major barriers that stood in his way were voters’ desire for change and for a female governor. “I probably could have overcome one of them, but both of them made it hard.”

Despite waging a campaign that included television ads accusing Granholm of practicing corrupt politics, he said he does not regret his strategy.

“I still hold that corruption, whether it’s black or white, still has to be stopped,” he said.

Posthumus nonetheless adopted a mostly conciliatory tone in speaking of his opponent. He wished the new governor luck in navigating Michigan’s budget through hard times.

He said he has not yet made a decision about what his future holds. He would predict no further than the next few weeks, when he will spend time with his family and on a deer-hunting excursion.

The Northville resident’s election also means that Democrats will hold the lieutenant governor’s office, which is chosen jointly as the the vote for governor. Granholm’s running mate was John Cherry Jr. of Clio, who is currently the minority leader in the state Senate. That victory and the possibility that Democrats tied Republicans in the race for seats in the Senate means that Cherry, as its presiding officer, would cast the tie-breaking vote when senators organize the chamber next year.

Posthumus’ defeated running mate was state Sen. Loren Bennett of Canton Township.

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