The race for the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor thinned yesterday, with one of the five candidates to head the party”s 2002 ticket dropping out of the race.

State Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township said his main reason for dropping out was the need to avoid a divisive Democratic primary with former Gov. James Blanchard, U.S. Rep. David Bonior, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith.

Peters had been running either last or next to last in recent polling, drawing numbers close to those of Smith. Peters, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, acknowledged that his standing in the polls did not help his candidacy. “Obviously, that makes it very difficult when the media constantly focuses on the horserace aspect of it,” he said.

Smith, in a similar position as Peters, has pledged to stay in the race although her polling numbers are very close to those of Peters. A resident of Salem Township whose district includes Ann Arbor, Smith, like Peters, is also term-limited but is steadfast in her conviction that she will win.

“That leaves one of us in the field who is well versed in the field on the issues,” Smith said.

Peters, who is prevented from seeking re-election to the Senate next year due to term limits, has been leading his party”s fight to prevent oil companies from drilling in the Great Lakes.

A financial adviser and vice president of UBS PaineWebber Corp., he also has a law degree from Wayne State University. He is the ranking Democrat on more committees than any other senator, serving as vice chair of the Finance, Judiciary, Education and Natural Resources committees.

While Peters” announcement did not come as a surprise, state Democratic Party spokesman Dennis Denno said he still thinks “any candidate can beat Dick Posthumus,” the lieutenant governor and likely Republican nominee for governor.

Peters said he has been approached by supporters to seek his party”s nomination for attorney general, which, along with the posts of secretary of state and lieutenant governor are selected by delegates to the August 2002 Democratic State Convention.

Peters said he is considering a run for that post but has made no decision yet. The party”s candidates for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state are nominated at the convention following the gubernatorial primary.

As to the remaining hopefuls for governor, “I”m not going to endorse any candidate for a couple of months, he said.

Peters may be angling to become the state”s next attorney general, but he would face a tough climb at that as well, said Bill Ballenger, a former state senator and editor of Inside Michigan Politics.

Ballenger noted that Peters” attorney general candidacy would hinge on whether Granholm leaves that option open to him by winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and until then, there is not much he can do.

“Frankly, he doesn”t know who the delegates to the state convention will be,” Ballenger said. “He may know who a few of them are and run around and do a little spade work.”

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