Two years before most voters start thinking about the next presidential election, potential candidates will be in the Detroit area this weekend schmoozing amid the football frenzy.
Sunday’s Super Bowl at Ford Field is an opportunity for hopefuls to meet potential deep-pocket donors — and some voters, too.
“Isn’t it amazing how early presidential elections start?” asked Craig Ruff of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants. “It started within hours of the 2004 election ending.”
Among those in town in the next few days:
Republicans: Virginia U.S. Sen. George Allen and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who are making political appearances, and New York Gov. George Pataki, who is coming for the game.
Democrats: Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, who don’t have political meetings scheduled.
Allen begins three days of politicking and football today. He has said he’ll seek re-election to his Senate seat this year, but he often is mentioned as a 2008 presidential contender.
He will be the guest at a reception today in Livonia hosted by Freedom Works, a Washington-based group that seeks lower taxes. Allen, son of former Washington Redskins coach George Allen, also will meet in Livonia with about 150 gun and hunting rights and traditional family values advocates.
On Saturday, Allen holds a fund-raiser for his re-election at the Renaissance Center. He is to be joined by former football stars turned GOP politicians Jack Kemp, Steve Largent and Lynn Swann, as well as his brother Bruce, general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, and Tim Rooney, whose family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s great that the Super Bowl is in Detroit. This should cheer up the folks in the Detroit area with all these job losses,” Allen said.
Tonight, Romney is to be the keynote speaker for Oakland County’s Lincoln Day dinner in West Bloomfield.
Although he has not announced as a candidate for president, he won’t seek re-election this year. Many expect he’ll run for the White House in 2008.
Romney has deep roots in the state. Born in Oakland County, he is the son of former Gov. George Romney. His brother Scott, a lawyer and Michigan State University trustee, still lives in Michigan and remains active in the GOP.
Romney will have several private meetings with political leaders Saturday. He is to return home Sunday morning.
Several local Republican clubs hope to bring in U.S. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Sam Brownback of Kansas as Lincoln Day dinner speakers, said Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
“McCain has been here more than anybody else,” said Anuzis. “He’s been very aggressive, helping the local and state parties.”
In 2000, Michigan voters gave McCain a victory over then Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the GOP’s open primary, with many independents and at least some Democrats voting.
The rival party held caucuses where voters had to sign in as Democrats.
Michigan political activists in both parties are trying to schedule their primaries earlier in the process, so that the state plays a bigger role in selecting the eventual nominees.
In 2004, there was no GOP primary because Bush was running unopposed. On the Democratic side, Michigan was the 10th state to vote. By then, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry had all but locked up the nomination and several early candidates skipped campaigning in the state.
“Michigan still counts because it’s relatively early in the cycle,” said consultant Ruff. “Plus, it’s the first state with a significant industrial base to vote, so a lot of the candidates view us as kind of a bellwether.”
Anuzis added, “We’re much more representative of the country than either Iowa or New Hampshire. Anyone emerging out of Michigan as a winner will have a clearer picture of how viable a candidate they are.”
Recent top visitors to the state
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tenn.; he is coming back to speak to the Detroit Economic Club on Feb. 27.
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.