Detroit (AP) - Michigan voters, whose state economy began declining earlier and sank deeper than almost any other in the nation, turned Tuesday to a Republican businessman for their next governor, selecting a political outsider who vowed to bring jobs.
Rick Snyder easily beat Democrat Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing, after being ahead in the polls since the August primary.
"The citizens of the state of Michigan have spoken: It is time to reinvent Michigan," Snyder said in a victory speech to supporters at a Detroit hotel. The cheering crowd held campaign signs declaring that Snyder and running mate Brian Calley had been "hired."
With 70 percent of precincts reporting, Snyder had 59 percent of the vote to Bernero's 39 percent, according to unofficial returns tabulated by The Associated Press.
It was the first governor's race without an incumbent in eight years. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm could not run again because of term limits. It was also the first statewide election since the bankruptcy reorganization of two of Michigan's biggest employers, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
Snyder, the former president of computer maker Gateway Inc., kicked off his campaign with a Super Bowl ad in which he declared himself "one tough nerd." Bernero campaigned on a pro-middle class, pro-worker agenda.
Eric Toelle, 35, of the Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores, said he was a "die-hard Democrat" who voted for President Barack Obama and Granholm. But this time he went for Snyder.
"Let me put it this way: If you're going to build a house, show me the blueprints. You don't need to tell me how bad the bricks are," Toelle said. "It's no secret we are in a horrible economy. Bernero didn't show me the blueprint."
Snyder squeezed past four more conservative GOP politicians in the August primary by appealing to moderates, and polls consistently showed him about 20 points ahead of Bernero.
Snyder's steady drumbeat of ads highlighted his success in helping launch startup companies in emerging fields and his status as a political outsider. He vowed to rely on that experience to ease the state's economic woes.
Michigan's 13.1 percent unemployment rate is well above the national average and has been among the highest in the U.S. for several years.
Bernero pitched himself as a mayor who has brought jobs and "cranes in the air" to his community while trimming the budget by millions of dollars. The man described as the "angry mayor" talked about his 84-year-old father, a retired autoworker, and vehemently defended autoworkers as GM and Chrysler descended into bankruptcy.
"It was a fight, my friends, worth fighting, but it wasn't our time," Bernero said as he acknowledged defeat.
Jennifer Cox, 37, a bank teller from Lansing, said she voted for Bernero because of his track record in that city.
"I like what he's done with the city so far. He's got a proven record. We need more industry in the state and he's willing to fight for that. He's really fought for what the people want."
Snyder joined Gateway when it was a fledgling computer maker in 1991, becoming president and chief operating officer in January 1996 before leaving management in August 1997. He remained on Gateway's board of directors until the company was sold to Taiwan-based Acer Inc. in 2007, returning for seven months in 2006 as interim CEO.
He has only a short time to craft a budget proposal for the state. The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency says Michigan faces a $1 billion shortfall in the budget year that starts next Oct. 1. The nonpartisan Citizens Research Council puts the deficit even higher, at $1.5 billion.
Associated Press writers Ed White in Grosse Pointe Woods and Tim Martin in Lansing contributed to this report.