Lt. Gov. John Cherry, who was widely considered to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor, announced yesterday he will not enter the race.

Fundraising for his campaign was a factor in his decision not to run, according to a statement he released yesterday.

With Cherry now out of the race, it has been widely speculated that House Speaker Andy Dillon will enter the race as the leading Democrat for the nomination.

Though Cherry was successful in garnering the support of more than a thousand people in the state and obtaining more than half of the 15,000 signatures needed by May of this year to have his name on the ballot, his fundraising efforts proved less than fruitful, according to the release.

“However, I also believed that I had to secure enough money to make my candidacy fully viable,” Cherry wrote in the statement. “I was not successful in that endeavor to the degree that was needed. With that in mind, I have come to the conclusion that to wage a successful campaign will be difficult at best.”

Joel Ferguson, a trustee at Michigan State University, supported Cherry’s candidacy and contributed money to his campaign.

Though Ferguson declined to comment on which candidate he would now support in the gubernatorial race, he told The Michigan Daily in an interview yesterday Cherry’s decision not to run will “make (the race) wide open.”

Other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination include state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith (D–Salem), former state Rep. John Freeman (D–Madison Heights) and George Perles, a MSU trustee. Others like Dillon and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero have expressed interest in competing for the gubernatorial seat, but have not formally entered the race.

In a statement released yesterday Dillon didn’t include how Cherry’s decision will affect his own campaign, but he wrote that he appreciates the work Cherry has done in office.

“Michigan residents owe John Cherry a debt of gratitude for his decades of dedicated public service,” Dillon wrote in the release. “I respect John’s decision and the tremendous work he has done for the state of Michigan.”

Though Cherry had been the Democratic front-runner, polls show he still lagged behind Republican candidates Attorney General Mike Cox, Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R–Mich.) and Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard who hold the top three spots, respectively, according to data released by The Detroit News in a Nov. 30, 2009 article.

Stu Sandler, the campaign manager for Cox, said though Cherry was a “very strong competitor,” his decision to decline running for the gubernatorial bid is not going to affect Cox’s campaign.

“I think Mike’s in a very strong position,” Sandler said in an interview with the Daily yesterday. “He has a plan to bring jobs back to Michigan. I don’t think it matters who’s running in either primary. He’s running a very strong race.”

Sandler also said Cox’s fundraising efforts have been successful thus far, despite the challenge the recession presents in raising money.

“I think it’s a tough environment to fundraise, but I think people are going to be impressed by the amount of support Mike has got,” he said.

Many believe the outlook for the Democratic Party is bleak for this election year, given the unpopularity of the current state administration. In a statement released by Bouchard, he wrote Cherry’s decision not to run for governor is related to his association with Michigan’s current political problems.

“I think anyone who has been in Lansing for the last eight years has a difficult time campaigning on fixing the mess they were part of creating,” Bouchard wrote in the release. “I think Lieutenant Governor Cherry was faced with this reality.”

John Truscott, the spokesman for Hoekstra’s campaign, said Cherry’s decision not to run in the race will turn the election in favor of the Republican Party, though he said he predicts that the race will get closer toward the end.

“I think people want change,” Truscott said. “I think people are looking for a different course, and frankly, a lot of people in Michigan are looking for jobs and looking for the people that can provide answers. The feeling is starting to move toward the Republican Party.”

Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has worked with Cherry in the gubernatorial office since 2003, expressed regret regarding Cherry’s decision to end his campaign possibilities for the gubernatorial race.

Granholm wrote in a press release yesterday that she appreciates everything Cherry has done in serving Michigan throughout his political career. She cited his work helping to diversify Michigan’s economy and increasing prospects for higher education for Michigan citizens.

“I am proud of John Cherry’s work in our administration and the integrity he demonstrated in considering a gubernatorial campaign,” Granholm wrote in the release. “I look forward to his continued counsel and support throughout the remainder of this year as we work to move Michigan forward.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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