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Catch a Rising Star

Five years ago, Jennifer Granholm '87 was a political unknown. Now she is working nonstop on the campaign trail to get people to know her, believe in her, and make her the next governor of Michigan.

Jennifer Granholm

We should have met her at McDonald's, Jennifer Granholm's driver says when a photographer and I arrive at the Ingham County Health Department in Lansing. That's what other reporters have done, and it's foolproof because that's where she usually starts her day in the public world--and sometimes ends her day and sometimes stops in between. Instead, we had planned to ride with her and her staff to Lansing after meeting them at 6:15 a.m. in her Livonia campaign office. We waited there until the communications director, who arrived past 7 a.m., told us, "There's been a miscommunication." And then we were chasing Granholm, who was already in Lansing, driving faster than we should and not quite knowing where to go, when a car in front of us in the fast lane veered and spun so we could see the face of the confused and terrified driver and we slammed to a stop and so did the car behind us.

Just as our heart rates went down to 100 or so, the cell phone rang. It was supposed to be the communications guy calling to give us precise directions. But it was Granholm, apologizing profusely for the mistake--their mistake, she said.

"There's just something about her," the driver, Jerome Marks, says about the woman whose campaign he has volunteered for, the attorney general of the state of Michigan who has catapulted from political obscurity to the threshold of the governor's office. In the Democratic primary on August 6, three weeks from this day, Granholm '87 will face former Michigan governor James Blanchard and Congressman David Bonior, a former House whip--formidable, experienced competitors who were making their marks on the state before she got her first mark in law school. But if the 43-year-old candidate is intimidated, she doesn't show it over the course of a 15-hour day on the campaign trail filled with newspaper and TV interviews, fund-raisers, and policy meetings. It's today's way to get the message out, though she hardly sees a random, ordinary Joe or Jane Voter all day. "You should have been at the rally last night," one of her aides says later in the day. There were a couple hundred people, speakers blaring Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." When Granholm made her entrance, "it was like a rock star walked into the room," the aide says. People just wanted to touch her, she adds. And Granholm just wants to touch them.

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