Andy Dillon, the speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives, announced yesterday he was forming an exploratory committee for a potential gubernatorial run. The announcement came two days after Democratic front-runner, Lt. Gov. John Cherry announced he wouldn’t be running for governor because of fundraising problems.

Dillon (D–Redford) posted a video on his website to formally make the announcement. In the video, the three-term State Rep. pledged to work to turn around the state’s stagnant economy.

“For generations, our state led the nation in creating good jobs that enabled millions of families — like mine — to live the Michigan dream,” Dillon said in the video. “I’ve seen what stands in the way of economic growth, and I know we can change it. But it won’t happen with the same old thinking.”

Dillon continued to say that in order for the state to prosper, all Michiganders, regardless of party affiliation, must unify.

“To grow our economy and create good jobs, we can’t continue the bitter partisanship in Lansing,” he said in the video. “We can’t exclude government from innovations embraced by the private sector. We can’t foster a mindset that says ‘I’ll get mine, no matter what the cost.’ Winning a bigger piece of a shrinking pie won’t matter if the pie disappears.”

He continued, “We must understand that we will only lift ourselves up by working together — Republicans and Democrats, business and labor, cities and small towns and suburbs.”

Dillon said he will soon decide whether or not he is going to formally enter the gubernatorial race.

“Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to people across our state, listening to your concerns and your ideas for the future,” Dillon said in the video.

It is widely believed Dillon’s exploratory committee is the first step the speaker is taking to start his campaign for governor, and that he will soon enter the race.

“(Dillon) says he’s exploring, but I know he’s running,” state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith (D–Salem), who is also running for the Democratic nomination for governor, said in a phone interview last night.

According to a Jan. 7 article in The Detroit Free Press, Dillon told the Democratic Caucus of his plans to form an exploratory committee Wednesday afternoon via teleconference. He emphasized he would remain devoted to his position as speaker of the House for the time being and said he was committed to maintaining the Democratic majority in the House in the November 2010 elections, according to the article.

Smith and possible fellow Democratic candidate, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, both said they have received more support since Cherry ended his campaign.

“My fundraising was steady, but not terrific, because the Lt. Governor being in the race and being the front-runner sort of dampened people’s willingness to spend big money on my race,” Smith said. “But his departure from the campaign has made a difference. People who have invested a few hundred dollars have now turned around and, in some cases, put the full amount into the campaign.”

Dillon is seen as the more moderate Democratic candidate compared to the rest of the field. He was instrumental in creating state-wide tax increases in 2007 and upset many labor leaders last year when he proposed a plan to have all public employees in the state be insured by one statewide health care program.

Smith said Dillon’s moderation sets him apart from the more liberal candidates.

“Philosophically I think the majority of the field represents solid Democratic values that reflect our base,” Smith said. “Speaker Dillon, on the other hand, is right-to-life, he refused to allow a vote on stem cell research, he isn’t anti-labor, but he doesn’t think labor first and I don’t think he understands the environment and its importance here in Michigan and the peril we face if we don’t dramatically control climate change.”

Because he holds more traditional Democratic ideals than Dillon, Bernero said that more people have been coming out in support of his campaign since Dillon’s announcement.

“We’re picking up huge support from the entrance of Andy Dillon,” Bernero said. “People are running in the opposite direction.”

Michael Traugott, research professor at the University’s Center for Political Studies, said it is going to be a tough year for Democrats nationally — and especially in Michigan, because of the state’s stagnant economy. But he said Dillon gives the Democrats a better chance of retaining the governorship than Cherry did.

“Cherry didn’t have very much independent kind of name recognition or a well-established base in the state,” Traugott said. “He suffered from the negatives associated with Jennifer Granholm and the Granholm administration for the last two terms. There’s a sense in which anybody but Cherry would’ve been a better candidate.”

Traugott said there are rumors that AKPD Message and Media — the Chicago-based consulting firm that ran President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign — will run Dillon’s campaign if he enters the race.

Gubernatorial candidates have until May 11, 2010 to formally announce their candidacy and file nominating petitions with the Secretary of State for the Aug. 3, 2010 primary elections.

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