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Mich. Voters Focus on Economy

The state's long list of economic woes has been particularly damaging to first-term governor Granholm, who has suffered heavily as she battles a Republican-led legislature and a joyless budget squeeze.

Her Republican challenger -- Dick DeVos, former president of Amway Corp. -- has hammered her relentlessly while pouring more than $12 million of his own money into the race.

Polls suggest Granholm has a slight edge. A Detroit Free Press poll showed her ahead by two points at the end of August after closing an earlier four-point gap. A sounding for the Detroit News and four television stations gave her a seven-point lead.

That late-August poll, conducted by Epic-MRA, found that 50 percent of respondents viewed Granholm favorably and 49 percent unfavorably. The polls and recent interviews with more than a dozen voters in four cities also show the intense interest in the governor's race has distracted attention from the Senate contest.

"The Senate race is being overwhelmed by the governor's race," said Bill Rustem of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants, who believes the situation helps the better-known incumbent. "The less attention is paid to the race, the less people know about who the alternative is, the better it is for Stabenow."

Stabenow, 56, is a former House member who has outraised Bouchard by millions of dollars. She is casting herself as more experienced and a reliable vote against what she calls the "Bush agenda." She says the GOP has shortchanged education and turned its back on manufacturing.

To counter Bouchard's claims that she has accomplished little -- Republicans at the state convention dubbed her "Do-Nothing Debbie" -- she cites favored bills and amendments.

On larger issues, Stabenow voted against the Iraq invasion while voting since for military spending. As a senator from a strong trade union state, she rejected a proposed guest-worker program, speaking against "importing cheap labor when you have Americans willing to work for good wages."

The two Senate candidates have dueled over border and homeland security issues, which Bouchard consider his strong suit. At 50, he is former state legislator and career police officer and member of one of the FBI's joint terrorism task forces, a network of dozens of teams across the country.

Stabenow speaks often about radio operability, the often unfulfilled goal of law agencies being able to speak to one another in a crisis. Bouchard, who volunteered for duty at Ground Zero and in flood-battered New Orleans, suggests that his rival is well intentioned but unschooled.

"I live, eat and breathe that. She doesn't understand the issue. She never got any of it done and in my book, talk is cheap," Bouchard said at a Pontiac coffee shop. "It's going to be a campaign based on results. She doesn't have them."

President Bush is broadly unpopular in Michigan but jetted into the state Friday to raise money for Bouchard. Bouchard said he was grateful for Bush's fundraising help, but he is keeping a certain distance, mindful of the national mood. He tells voters, "I'm the guy from Michigan who happens to be a Republican."

With both candidates calling it an election about change, the campaigns are essentially pushing voters to decide who, if anyone, should be ousted.

Is it, as Stabenow contends, the Republicans who dominate policymaking in Washington? Or, as Bouchard maintains, the Democrat who governs in Lansing and the one who commutes to Washington?

"I don't blame them," Southfield electrician Gregory Bracey, 54, said of Granholm and Stabenow. "Their hands are tied. We know Republicans are in charge."

But at the annual Peach Fest parade in the reliably Republican town of Romeo, north of Detroit, 20-year General Motors worker Clay Osborne said the two women deserve early retirement.

"There's a lot of jobs leaving the state," said Osborne, 59, as he stood at the corner of South Main and Pleasant. "Since Governor Granholm and Senator Stabenow have been in office, it's gone down the tubes."

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