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Meet Rick Snyder, the governor at the center of the Flint water crisis

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder apologized for the contaminated drinking water crisis in the city of Flint during his State of the State address and says, "I'm sorry, and I will fix it." (Video: Reuters)

Every governor has his or her low point in office.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), a tech venture capitalist who was elected in 2010 on a platform to fix the state's "disaster" economy, might have reasonably thought Detroit becoming the largest municipal bankruptcy in history was his. But this week, Snyder suggested a poisonous water supply in Flint that has sickened more than a dozen people and could be tied to the death of at least 10 more is worse. He even called it his "Katrina."

"It's a disaster," he told National Journal's Ron Fournier in an interview published Monday.

A quick catch-up on all that's been going on: Snyder appointed an emergency financial manager in 2013 to make decisions for the cash-strapped, hard-scrabble city 66 miles northwest of Detroit. In a money-saving maneuver, in April 2014, Flint's water supply was shifted from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. Residents quickly started complaining of smelly, murky water that made children break out in rashes. And in September 2015, researchers found that the proportion of lead in Flint children's blood levels had doubled to above-average levels, with potentially irreversible consequences for some. Researchers found the river's water was highly corrosive to lead pipes that transported the water to some parts of the city.

Events at the state level flowed quickly from there. In October, the state paid $12 million to switch Flint back to Detroit's water system. In December, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) declared a state of emergency. The state's top environmental official resigned after a report placed the blame on his agency. By the end of December, Snyder apologized, declared a state of emergency, called in the National Guard and asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency, which he did on Saturday.

And the water crisis has now become a presidential campaign issue. In the Democrats' fourth presidential debate on Sunday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton brought up the issue when asked what issue had been ignored in the debate, saying she was "outraged." Previously, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Snyder to resign.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders slammed Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) over his handling of the Flint, Mich. water crisis. (Video: NBC)

On Tuesday, Snyder will address state lawmakers in his annual State of the State address, where he's expected to take even more responsibility for the crisis and announce new attempts to solve it.

Depending on how he handles this, the governor's political future could be in question. Here's what you need to know about the governor at the center of the Flint water crisis.

His role in Flint is unclear

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked President Obama to declare an emergency as the city of Flint deals with the fallout from lead-contaminated water. (Video: Reuters)

Snyder told National Journal he knew last summer that his top aides were concerned Flint residents were "getting blown off" by the state's Environmental Department.

In addition to what he knew when, there are also questions about whether Snyder acted in an appropriate amount of time. Avoiding the city's water has become a way of life for Flint residents for the past 18 months or so, and several have filed a lawsuit against Snyder, the state and the city.

Local media outlets have written editorials calling on Snyder to release his emails related to Flint. (The Michigan governor's office is shielded from the state's Freedom of Information Act.) And about 150 protesters recently marched in the frigid Michigan January outside the state capitol and Snyder's office, calling for his resignation.

While not commenting on the lawsuit itself, Snyder's office told The Washington Post's Yanan Wang in December that the state has been working on improving the water quality in Flint and other cities for the past year and that in October, the governor created a plan to that includes "free water testing, free water filters and the accelerating of corrosion controls in the drinking water system."

He wants you to know he's a nerd

In his 2010 election, to set himself apart from a crowded primary, Snyder ran an ad during the Super Bowl declaring himself "One Tough Nerd." The computer executive is indeed academic; by age 23, he had earned his bachelor's degree, MBA and law degree from the University of Michigan.

Snyder largely self-funded his outsider-driven campaign and ended up winning a plurality in the primary -- against an attorney general and congressman, no less -- to go on to win the general with 58 percent of the vote.

He's clashed with the right

Snyder was helped to office in part by a tea party wave that also turned Michigan's House from blue to red and furthered Republican control in the Senate.

But Snyder is no tea party politician. In his first term as governor, he's occasionally clashed with a more conservative legislature. He vetoed an abortion bill and has been criticized for some on the right for either not being conservative enough or for not focusing enough on social issues. (Snyder opposes abortion rights, but he favors exceptions in the case of rape, incest or if a mother's life is in danger.)

And he's clashed with the left

Snyder managed to avoid the national union controversies that caught up some of his conservative counterparts, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). But he made no friends among Democrats when he fast-tracked right-to-work legislation during a lame duck session of the state legislature.

A Democratic state senator even called Snyder a "dictator" in late 2012, when Snyder signed into law a bill allowing cities and school districts to appoint an emergency manager -- with the power to repeal union contracts. Michigan voters repealed a similar law a month earlier, but Snyder quickly re-passed a revised version.

He barely won reelection

When his first term was ending, Snyder was one of the most vulnerable governors in the nation; his job approval ratings were underwater, with 41 percent approval to 49 percent disapproval.

But he ran a fairly low-key campaign against former congressman Mark Schauer (D) and won with almost 51 percent of the vote.

He helped Detroit get out of bankruptcy

One of Snyder's major accomplishments will certainly be helping guide Detroit back into the black. Shortly after getting reelected to a second term, Snyder was able to announce Michigan's largest city had emerged from one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in history.

"It was an extremely difficult process," he told Time Magazine's Zeke Miller in 2014. "It was a tough call to decide to go into bankruptcy, but again, we set an aggressive timetable. And the good part is, it turned out very well."

He apparently likes robots

When the Atlantic's Molly Ball followed Snyder around on the 2014 campaign trail, she was struck by how often the former tech executive is in the company of robots.

He marched in a Labor Day parade with a robot, she reported. He emceed a national robotics competition in his state. When he signed the state's budget bill in June -- months ahead of schedule, he likes to point out -- a robot brought him a pen.

Presidential and veep buzz have consistently followed him

Obama won Michigan in 2008 and 2012, and in 2012, Snyder's approval rating of 50 percent made him one of the most popular Republican governors in a state that voted for Obama.

As such, there was buzz that Snyder was on 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's shortlist. (Romney ended up picking now-House Speaker Paul Ryan.) A few years later, Snyder's name was floated again in national circles as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. But he batted that down, telling Miller, "I’m very happy being governor."

The Flint water crisis is his biggest test so far

Despite his sometimes-national profile, much of Snyder's political battles have usually stayed within Michigan's borders.

Now, he's in the national spotlight for a very different reason. It's an open question as to whether Snyder can take ownership and control of a crisis he acknowledges is a very serious test for him.