Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Rep. David E. Bonior yesterday formed a campaign committee to run for governor of Michigan amid speculation that the states Republican legislature will eliminate the high-ranking Democrats seat.
Mr. Bonior, Democratic whip and second in command to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, said he will join the race to succeed Gov. John Engler.
The 2000 census recorded a significant population loss for Michigan, and that will cost the state one of its 16 congressional seats. Republicans control the state legislature and reportedly are targeting Mr. Boniors seat in the 10th district for elimination.
Mr. Bonior has denied redistricting is motivating him to abandon his leadership post and retire from Congress to seek the governorship.
“I have been dismayed by the amount of inattention of the governor and lieutenant governor on things that matter to me,” Mr. Bonior said at a Democrats dinner Saturday in Traverse City, Mich.
An aide to Mr. Bonior said the paperwork was filed with the secretary of state yesterday, but a formal announcement will be made at a later date.
Fellow Michigan Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak foresees Mr. Bonior relinquishing his leadership position later this year to focus on the gubernatorial campaign.
“I dont think he will do both of them,” Mr. Stupak told the Detroit News on Sunday.
Mr. Gephardt, of Missouri, yesterday refused to answer reporters questions regarding whether it is appropriate for Mr. Bonior to step down as whip, and when such a decision should be made.
“I think it is inappropriate to conjecture or speculate on what he might or might not do,” Mr. Gephardt said.
“I think were getting way ahead of ourselves. As I understand it, Dave is talking about an exploratory committee and looking at the possibility of running for governor. But that decision has not been made,” Mr. Gephardt said.
Mr. Bonior was elected Democratic whip in 1991, and is responsible for the partys legislative strategy and for keeping members informed about upcoming issues and votes.
Mr. Bonior enters the race a definite underdog, said Ed Sarpolus of EPIC-MRA, an independent Michigan polling group.
“His negatives are as high as his positives,” Mr. Sarpolus said.
Mr. Boniors name has been floated for a year as a Democratic nominee for governor. His popularity in polls peaked at 16 percent, and is now hovering between 8 percent and 11 percent, Mr. Sarpolus said. “There is not much excitement about his candidacy.”
Other Democrats vying for the post include former Gov. James J. Blanchard, who served two terms from 1983 to 1990, and Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. Two-term state Sen. Gary Peters also wants the post, as does state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith, the first black woman to run for governor in Michigan.
The latest poll by EPIC-MRA to be released today shows Mr. Bonior would get 7 percent of the vote if the election were held today. Mr. Blanchard led with 33 percent and Mrs. Granholm had 26 percent. The undecideds made up 28 percent.
The poll was conducted May 9-18 and has a 4 percent margin of error.
“I think this would be a very heated primary if everyone stays in,” said Charles Drago, president of the Lincoln Heritage Institute near Lansing, Mich.
“But I dont think he [Mr. Bonior] can knock off either Granholm or Blanchard,” Mr. Drago said.
Mr. Drago described Mr. Bonior as a “hard charger” and a “strong individual” who has focused his 12 terms in office on constituent casework.
Mr. Bonior is described as “acid-tongued and ferociously partisan” in the most recent edition of Congressional Quarterlys Politics in America.
The 56-year-old Detroit native is pro-labor and against abortion. He was strongly critical of former President Bill Clinton for having an affair while in office, but was equally critical of Republicans for impeaching Mr. Clinton.

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