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Jack Lessenberry

Jack Lessenberry

November 2014 Could Be Full of Surprises!

September 27, 2013

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Democrats think they have a good chance to score major victories in next year’s statewide elections. Thanks to union bitterness over Right to Work legislation and widespread anger with Governor Rick Snyder’s push to tax pensions, Democrats think they just might unseat the incumbent.

They feel more confident of holding the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Carl Levin. Lon Johnson, the energetic new state Democratic chair, says his party can also win back the lower state House, gain big in the state Senate and maybe even gain a seat in Congress.

Maybe. But, maybe not.

The story could just as easily read this way on November 6th, 2014:

***

LANSING — Governor Rick Snyder won a second four-year term fairly easily Tuesday, winning 53 percent of the vote over former Battle Creek Congressman Mark Schauer. Republicans also added slightly to their majority in the state House lost only two seats in the Senate. And, Terri Lynn Land defeated Democrat Congressman Gary Peters to become the first Michigan Republican in two decades to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

***

Republicans actually have a fair number of reasons to be optimistic about next year. Traditionally, the party that doesn’t hold the White House does very well in midterm elections. Especially in any president’s second term, as is the case this time. That, however, may not be so true in Michigan, because of the big gains Republicans made in the 2010 elections. Democrats here now hold only five seats in the U.S. House, all of which were drawn to be overwhelmingly Democratic.

But things may be different in the U.S. Senate race. Michigan Republicans have a stunning record of failure in Senate races: They’ve won only once since 1972. But, now there’s a rare open seat and both parties have evidently settled on candidates:

  • Democrats will run Gary Peters, 54, a former State Senator and Lottery Commissioner who is in his third term in Congress, from a district that is half Detroit, half suburbs.
  • Republicans seem ready to run Terri Lynn Land, 55, a former two-term Secretary of State, the consensus choice when a couple of prominent congressmen decided not to risk their safe seats.

Most national surveys have, at this point, Democrat as the odds-on favorite. But that may be wrong. Ms. Land, who is from Byron Center near Grand Rapids, has twice won statewide election by a landslide. Though she has won acceptance from the Tea Party, and has so far tailored her rhetoric to please them, in past years she has been perceived by most voters as a, “comfortable” moderate.

She also has a money advantage. Her father is a self-made, very wealthy developer, and indications are that the Land family can and will pour $5 million or more into her campaign.
Gary Peters, on the other hand, ran what many saw as an inept campaign when he ran for State Attorney General in 2002, and became the first Democrat in half a century to lose that post.

Since then, he has worked hard to improve his campaigning skills. He is a great fundraiser, and when it comes to legislative, congressional and Washington experience, he has volumes. Terri Lyn Land has none. How she stands on many major issues is still largely unknown. But, so is how much that will matter to voters.

Democrats have an even higher number of formidable hurdles to face in next year’s race for governor. Snyder is almost certainly going to do worse than in 2010, when he won 59 percent. But consider this: Few voters outside one congressional district know the designated Democratic nominee, a longtime state legislator who served only a single term in Congress.

Polls show the Governor’s negatives are still high, but Democrats concede Snyder will be far better funded. Republicans historically have an advantage in midterm elections, because a smaller percentage of Democrats vote. That will also tend to help the GOP in state legislative races next year. Republicans still hung on to a 59-51 majority in the state House last year, despite President Obama sweeping Michigan.

Without a strong top-of-the-ticket, it is hard to see how Democrats get to a majority. They are almost certain to gain in the state Senate, where Republicans have a huge, 26-12 edge.
But not even Democrats pretend they have any chance of winning control there. There is, however, one factor that could turn things sour for incumbent Republicans, especially the Governor:

The Tea Party.

Todd Courser, an accountant and tax lawyer, has emerged as the closest thing that faction has to a leader. They largely hate the governor, and say that by accepting Medicaid expansion, he has turned his back on true conservatives. Courser’s forces are vowing to force next year’s republican state convention to dump Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, essentially for doing his job and backing his own governor’s programs.

Courser, who stunned establishment Republicans by very nearly ousting GOP Chair Bobby Schostak at the Party’s state convention in February, is hinting that he may try to become the Lieutenant Governor nominee. He also thinks some conservative should try to defeat the Governor in next August’s primary, and encourage, “the union vote” to cross over and try to do Snyder in.

Beating the Governor in an open primary is not going to happen. But it is possible that Tea Party members could pack a state convention and nominate one of their own for lieutenant governor. That would then put the Governor in the impossible position of having a running mate who has vowed to sabotage his program.

So, in next year’s election, it just might be that we, “Ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Veteran journalist and national Emmy Award winner Jack Lessenberry teaches at Wayne State University, serves as Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst and writes regularly for several publications. He also serves as The Toledo Blade’s writing coach and ombudsman and is host of the weekly television show Deadline Now on WGTE-TV in Toledo.

September 26, 2013 · Filed under Jack Lessenberry

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James Brazier // Sep 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Your assessment may be accurate because such a pessimistic outlook is justified by the factors you described. Peters did not win in 2002 and Land did. Schauer must try to defeat an incumbent governor. Only Engler has succeeded in this and he had the assets of being Republican and the most visible head of the opposition while Blanchard was governor. Schauer is a Democrat and not the leader of the opposition . Engler had the additional asset of being the Senate majority leader and this does not hold true for Schauer or any Democratic opposition leaders.

    So, I am discouraged and see the timing of election gerrymander harming the Democratic Party in Michigan again as it was intended to do so. The Republicans saw that having statewide elections for governor, attorney general and secretary of state while having a presidential election during the same election was a losing proposition since the higher turnout helped Democrats.

    The matter of redistricting according to the standard of one person-one vote was addressed by drafting constitutional standards that would be defensible as variations from the standard. Eventually, the GOP showed it had anticipated correctly on how to justify population variations.

    The Republican Party is still benefitting from its dominance of the con-con of 1961-2. It made possible opportunities for victory through structuring electoral frameworks on the timing of elections and the drawing of state legislative districts. Democrats must always find ways to stimulate turnout besides win against the stacking of voters in state house and senate districts. Any Democratic win is one that must buck the odds against it.

  • 2 harvey bronstein // Sep 27, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Unless Mark Schauer comes up with a viable program for good jobs he will lose to Snyder by 6 or 7 points. Peters will beat Terri Land by by 8-9%. His 2002 campaign is irrelevant and so is her 2002 race. Both Peters and Land will have plenty of money. He will out campaign her, easily out debate her and Democrats will hold their seat. As to the State Senate and House, not much will change.

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