Michigan governor's race poses dilemma. Party loyalty up against racial loyalty as black Republican runs

Michigan's gubernatorial race has thrown black voters into a quandary. ``It's a mixed feeling,'' says Norman Graham, a black auto worker from Flint. ``You want to keep on the party line, but you'd like to see a black governor in Michigan.''

``I am betwixt and between,'' adds a black minister from Detroit.

Their dilemma: party loyalty dictates a vote for Gov. James Blanchard, a Democrat who is white; racial loyalty points to the Republican, William Lucas, who is black. The Michigan governor's contest is shaping up as a major test of whether Republicans can draw the black vote.

The Sunday service of the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ is running late, but after two rousing choruses, the Rev. Non Walker is ready.

``Let's say `Amen' to Brother Lucas,'' he intones. ``Amen,'' answers the Jackson, Mich., congregation.

After a short introduction, the tall Wayne County executive, a kind of county mayor for the Detroit area, gets up and asks for support. ``We have an opportunity to make history,'' he tells the all-black congregation. No state has elected a black governor before.

The appeal is strong and the applause, abnormally long. ``He's got my vote,'' an usher confides.

Later, after visiting another black church in Jackson, Mr. Lucas expands on his underdog campaign.

``My instinct tells me that there is a realignment going on. Most people consider themselves as an independent. And I sense the same assessment going on in the black community. . . . The black community has made absolutely no gain in the Democratic Party in all these years. And I think that more and more blacks -- thinking blacks -- are realizing they're being taken for granted.''

But in Detroit that same day, another scenario is unfolding. John Conyers Jr., an 11-term United States congressman, is up early. He attends a 6:30 a.m. class at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and shakes many hands. A churchgoer asks about Lucas. ``He's not his own man,'' Representative Conyers responds.

Like other black leaders here, Mr. Conyers has criticized Lucas for his support from such right-wingers as the Rev. Pat Robertson. Next Wednesday, when President Reagan is scheduled to fly in for a Lucas fund-raiser, Conyers hopes to stage a counterrally.

It's not just the party tag that troubles black leaders. Some of Lucas's positions are controversial. Like Reagan, he advocates smaller government and a strong defense. The former sheriff and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent wants to step up crime-fighting efforts. A Roman Catholic, he opposes abortion.

Unlike Reagan, Lucas supports affirmative action and gradual divestiture to pressure South Africa. ``The President recognizes some differences, but he feels the Republican Party is big enough [for those],'' Lucas explains. ``He said to me: `You're exactly what this party needs.' ''

``The Lucas campaign is an important symbol for the Republican Party,'' explains Michael Traugott of the political studies center at the University of Michigan. But he and other political observers agree that Lucas faces an uphill battle to win the governorship.

The strategy is to hold onto traditional white Republicans outside Detroit while holding down Democratic margins within the city. Neither part of that equation is guaranteed, these observers add.

For one thing, Governor Blanchard is popular even in Republican strongholds. Since 1983, when he took office, the state has paid off a $1.7 billion deficit and seen its unemployment rate cut in half. Lucas contends that the national recovery is responsible rather than Blanchard, who had raised taxes 38 percent.

But the argument has not caught on. A Detroit News poll in June gave Blanchard a 73-percent approval rating. ``The governor has had pretty much a 2-to-1 margin for some time'' over Lucas, says Lisa Grayson, press secretary for the Blanchard campaign.

Detroit is not proving any easier for Lucas. Mayor Coleman Young and other black Democratic leaders support Blanchard. Many blacks were angered last year when Lucas, elected as a Democrat, switched parties.

Democrats charge Lucas wanted to further his political career. He says that as head of the newly organized Wayne County government, he found the Democratic power structure opposed to his efforts to cut the county's $140 million deficit. ``I found myself hamstrung at every turn by the leaders,'' he says.

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