By Carol Cain
Republican National Finance Chair Ron Weiser may be known for his Midas Touch as he helps Mitt Romney in the nearly billion dollar chase for campaign cash, but he's also hoping for a little maize' n blue victory too. That's because Weiser, the Ann Arbor businessman and former U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia, is running for regent at the University of Michigan.
It's the first time the 66-year-old known for helping candidates across the nation has actually run for political office.
As Romney is traveling the country talking up his CEO background in his bid for president, Weiser also wants to bring his business acumen to the board that oversees the storied Ann Arbor university known for its maize 'n blue school colors.
There's a difference between the two – don't expect to see Weiser hitting the campaign trail on his own behalf. He may send a few surrogates to grassroot meetings, but Weiser will spend all of his time raising dollars for Romney and the GOP.
"If we do our job, Mitt will win and that will help all of us down the line," Weiser said of other elected positions also on Michigan's fall ballot.
Mark Brewer, chairman of the state's Democratic Party, agreed the person at the top of the ticket holds influence.
"The results in the education board races are usually determined by the top of the ticket results," Brewer said.
All agree it's going to take a Herculean ground game fueled by money for Romney -- and ultimately Weiser -- to win in Michigan.
Beating an incumbent president in a state that has gone blue since 1988 with a slightly improving economy will be tough any way you slice it.
Weiser is legendary for his fundraising prowess. Candidates have gravitated to him for help including former Gov. John Engler, President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain. As Michigan GOP Party Chair, he raised millions for state supreme court candidates.
Weiser works the phone as few others as he twists arms and bends ears. He travels several days each week and has been working 14 hour days which are growing longer since Romney was christened last week as the GOP "presumptive nominee" by RNC Chair Reince Priebus.
Described as a "gila monster" in a recent The Daily article because of his tenacity, Weiser doesn't let go.
"Ron Weiser is a fundraising force unlike anything I have ever seen," Gov. Rick Snyder said after the 2010 election sweep in Michigan where GOP won all statewide offices.
"Ron has always been a hard working party guy, both on the political front and the finance front," said Saul Anuzis, former state GOP chair and onetime candidate for the RNC chairman's job. "His commitment and love for U of M is well known. I think he probably bleeds maize and blue."
To be successful at UM, Weiser will need to win the endorsement of attendees at the state GOP's convention this fall. Other GOP candidates also in the race: Dr. Rob Steele, Dan Horning, Nick Fiani and C.W. Kauffman. Other names like Susan Brown, another longtime UM booster, are also being floated.
If successful, he would be one of two GOP candidates to face lawyers Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs who are waiting in the wings as they have been endorsed by the Democratic Party.
The two endorsed candidates from each party will appear on the fall ballot where voters then decide. The top two vote getters win the two open spots (the board is made up of eight). The job doesn't pay but holds influence in how UM is run.
"I'd like to be ambassador to Ann Arbor," Weiser told me from his office at McKinley Properties located in downtown Ann Arbor.
His office is adorned with pictures of Gerald Ford, George W. Bush, John McCain, Colin Powell. There are autographed UM Wolverine footballs and pictures with UM royalty like the late Bo Schembechler.
McKinley, which he started 44 years ago while a student at UM, has grown to 25 states. He serves as adviser to company CEO Albert M. Berriz.
Weiser's convinced he would add value with his business background. "It's a $5.8 billion a year business," he said of the university.
If successful you could call this the Ron Weiser's maize 'n blue political magic act.
Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer and Host of "Michigan Matters" airing 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. She writes about politics and business in Sunday's Detroit Free Press. You can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org.
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