Wolverines at the Gates: The Michigan Races

    Starting at the most northern Congressional district in Mississippi and draw a line north.  About three quarters of the way up, extend a line to the right all the way to Pennsylvania.  This area represents the killing fields for Democrats in November.  The line northward ends in Michigan.  And although Republican gains will not be as great here as they will be in Ohio, Indiana, an Pennsylvania, the gains in Michigan with be impressive nevertheless.

     Starting with the Governor’s race to replace Democratic incumbent and term-limited Jennifer Granholm, Rick Snyder is running against Virg Bernero and has a 23 point lead in the polls.  Put another way, the Democratic Party can kiss this governor’s office goodbye.  Granholm has been an unabashed cheerleader for Obama and his policies andthis will cost her party the governorship.  With a candidate less strong than Snyder, the race would merely be closer, but the outcome not in question.

     In the Congressional races, Democrats hold 8 of the 15 seats currently.  Four seats are open due to incumbent retirements evenly split between parties.  The two Republican retirements- Peter Hoekstra in the 2nd and Vernon Ehlers in the 3rd- lie in reliable Republican territory and will be retained by Republicans Bill Huzienga in the 2nd and Justin Amash in the 3rd.  Perhaps only the Third District should be close, but the district is fairly Republican (+6 Republican Cook PVI) andhas been in GOP hands since 1993.  It is centered around Grand Rapids and lies in the more conservative western part of Michigan.  All these factors point to a Republican victory and retention in the District.

      There are two Democratic-controlled open districts this year.  In the 13th, Carolyn Kilpatrick is retiring.  This is an urban, black majority district encompassing parts of Detroit and its eastern suburbs.  Considering the fact a Republican has not represented the district since 1949 and it has a Cook PVI of +31 Democratic, Republican take over of the district is out of the question.  Instead, Republicans will pick up the First District being vacated by Democratic incumbent Bart Stupak.  While a Republican leaning, fairly conservative district throughout history, Stupak’s stances, particularly his pro-life stance, has essentially kept him in power for years.  However, the political posturing and eventual capitulation to Pelosi and company during the health care debate hurt his political chances.  He managed to put a huge target on his back labeled “hypocrite” with his shenanigans during that debacle.  As a result, Republican Dan Benischek has a clear path to the House if he beats Gary McDowell.  Recent polling puts the Republican up by a mere 3 points.  However, an average of polls puts Benischek up by 12 points.  Split the difference and give him an 8 point victory.  The fact is that despite barely siding with Obama in 2008, this district twice supported Bush over Gore and Kerry.  Throw in anti-incumbent party sentiments and a sour economic mood in Michigan and you have a recipe for a Republican pick up.

     Besides the four open seats in play, there are also five competitive races.  The first is in the 6th district where Republican incumbent Fred Upton is considered vulnerable by the Democrats.  He is opposed by Don Conney.  Democratic aspirations in this district is predicated upon the fact that Obama took the district by 10 points in 2008.  Perhaps, their analysis is false and they have some misplaced hopes.  Although fairly Republican, the seat has changed party hands over the years in pretty regular succession. This race is not really on the radar of any major prognosticators, but I feel that it needs some watching and should not be taken for granted by the GOP.  Likewise with the 8th District which also flipped to Obama in 2008.  Throw in the fact that incumbent Mike Rogers has had difficulties in the past.  What disturbs me is that it includes part of the college town of Lansing and the effect of the youth vote in this district.  While it is true that there is less youth interest in midterm elections, increased or greater than normal youth turn out could make this race closer than what it should be.  The final Republican district that bears watching is the 11th, currently represented by Thaddeus McCotter.  Like the 8th, Obama won this district in 2008 after Republican victories in 2000 and 2004.  Plus, like Rogers, McCotter has had some close calls in the past- actually closer than Rogers.  Although I have seen this guy on television many times and really like him, I don’t vote in Michigan.  Again, this is a district slowly drifting to the Democratic column.  Whether that happens in 2010 remains to be seen.  I hope not.  Again, this race is not necessarily on the radar of any of the professional websites.  I rate a Democratic victory chance at slightly less than 50%, way to close for my comfort.  McCotter being upset would be a  major Democratic victory to mitigate losses elsewhere and you heard it here- it is a real possibility.

      Of the two contested Democratic districts, the best chance is in the Seventh District where incumbent Mark Schauer faces a serious challenge from Republican Tim Walberg.  The most recent poll on September 23rd had the race tied although the average of all polling has Walberg up by about 8 points overall.  This is a rematch of the 2008 race that ousted Walberg who is vying for his old seat.  Located along the Ohio/Indiana border in southern Michigan, Schauer faces some daunting odds.  He is only the second Democrat to represent the area since World War I.  His victory in 2008 over Walberg was by only 2 percentage points and he polled lower than 50% of the vote in victory.  Along with the open 1st District, this looks like a greater than even chance for a Republican pick up in Michigan.

    The other district is the Ninth currently held by Democrat Gary Peters who Republicans targeted early in this cycle.  He is opposed by Rocky Raczkowski.  This is a primarily urban district centered around Pontiac and will be tougher to win than the more rural Seventh.  However, the most recent poll has the Republican up by four points which might spell some trouble for Democrats in Michigan if they lose an urban seat.

     In a state with high unemployment, where there is great disenchantment with the status of the economy, where anti-incumbent sentiment is high, it is not difficult to see why the Democratic Party faces an uphill battle in the Wolverine State.  This is the northern most boundary of theMidwestern killing fields for the Democratic Party this year.  With probably a three seat pick up followed by reapportionment where Michigan could possibly lose a seat makes this state less reliably blue in future elections.