Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Michigan

Michigan started their redistricting process with two goals in mind: shore up Thad McCotter’s district and deal with the population losses in the metropolitan Detroit area. As Michigan’s overall population decreased 0.6% over the last decade, the Wayne County population, which includes Detroit, decreased 11.7%. Since Michigan will lose a seat in the House, this area seems ripe for congressional changes.

Like any other state, population shifts within a state show the general sorting of people with similar political outlooks. For example, Wayne County which saw a population decrease of 11.7% gave Obama over 74% of the vote in 2008. Conversely, Ottawa County voted for McCain at a 61% clip and saw a population increase of 10.7%. That is not to claim that every Democratic area saw decreases or every Republican area showed increases. However, this general trend is apparent in many states and may illustrative of many urban conservative/moderate people moving into more conservative or moderate areas of the state, if not out of the state altogether.

In 2008, Michigan gave Obama 57% of the vote along with their 17 electoral votes. Only three congressional districts- the 2nd, 3rd, and 10th- voted for McCain. Yet, nine of their current 15 representatives are Republican. Three things favor Obama winning Michigan again in 2012. First, his approval ratings in the state are consistently above the national average, hovering at or above the 50% mark. That translates into votes. Second, the auto industry still dominates Michigan and he is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the savior of the auto industry in that state. Third, one would expect the union ground game to go all out for Obama, much like they were mobilized to help Harry Reid in Nevada in 2010. Still, the Romney name resonates in this state. It would be tough for Obama to replicate his 2008 results. However, a 53% of the vote figure is realistic and enough to take their 16 electoral votes.

Then there is the Senate race where incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow seeks a third term. In 2000, she eked out a victory over incumbent Spencer Abraham and in 2006 won reelection with over 56% of the vote. In 2006, she had two things in her favor that she cannot count on in 2012. First, she had the political wind at her back as Republicans were being voted out of office over George W. Bush’s increasing unpopularity. Second, she faced a weak candidate who was more local in nature. As many have pointed out since, Stabenow should heed the lesson of Russ Feingold who, at this stage of the campaign against a relative unknown, was viewed as invincible in Wisconsin. Yet, the impossible happened. In fact, the voting records and political positions of Feingold and Stabenow are eerily alike. And, I suggest, Michigan is a little more conservative than Wisconsin on a whole. While Stabenow certainly leads in the money game having accumulated a $7 million war chest, Republicans still feel she has vulnerabilities, namely her liberalism that may just go against the grain of mainstream Michigan.

Unlike 2006, the Republicans have a known commodity in former representative Pete Hoekstra. Because he ran for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2010 and lost to eventual winner Rick Snyder, his name is recognizable statewide. In fact, the biggest knock on him right now is that he may not be conservative enough. At this point, we can start a chorus of “Here We Go Again.” Hasn’t the GOP learned its lesson from 2010 from places like Alaska, Delaware and Colorado, as I am sure we will these same arguments in Indiana and Maine this year? The fact is that Hoekstra hails from the most conservative district in Michigan and has the votes, positions and endorsements to back up his conservative credentials. If we hold the man to some failure of someone’s definition of a conservative litmus test, then we run the risk of possibly losing a Senate seat certainly within our grasp. Most importantly, some early polls show Hoekstra even, if not ahead of Stabenow.

Unlike her, he will face a primary challenge from Clark Durant who runs private and charter schools in Detroit and surrounding areas. He may very well be a great man with great eeducational reform ideas, but perhaps he should make his first attempt at elective office not a statewide position like US Senator.

To underscore the urgency of the race, Hoekstra has received the endorsements of Rick Snyder and Michelle Bachmann with whom he served in the House. Recently, Michigan Tea Party groups, not exactly known for their top-down organization, decided to coalesce around Hoekstra as the best bet to unseat Stabenow who they view as an “Obama yes person.” They rightfully view her as the bigger threat than the allegedly less-than-perfectly-conservative Pete Hoekstra.

I am not 100% confident to call this race either way other than to say that should Stabenow prevail, it will be by the skin of her teeth. Already, this is shaping up as a high profile and expensive Senate race that will feature the usual cast of Michigan characters, namely organized labor.

The state loses a House seat in 2013. Although the approved congressional map faces a court challenge from cry baby Democrats in the Detroit area, it should survive. That being said, freshman GOP Dan Benishek was made a little safer in the 1st District and should face a rematch against 2010 challenger Gary McDowell. This race bears watching. Bill Huzienga looks like a safe Republican retention in the 2nd, although he may face a primary challenge. Another freshman Republican, Justin Amash in the 3rd, should win his effort. Former representative Mark Schauer was drawn into this district, but he has declined a run at the seat. Instead, another 2010 rematch should occur here as Pat Miles is considering another run.

Also, David Lee Cammp is safe in the 4th. Democrat Dale Kildee is retiring from the 5th District after serving in Congress since 1977. His nephew, Dan Kildee, the former treasurer of Genessee County, is the only declared Democrat, although the primary field may grow in the coming months. Jim Slezak, a former state representative, will most likely oppose Kildee, although 2010 aspirant John Kupiec is considering a run for the GOP.

Fred Upton in the 6th will likely win his reelection bid against probably John Waltz. Waltz movved north apparently after losing the congressional race in Kentucky’s 4th District in 2010, thus making Waltz a loser in two states in two years time. Although the newly drawn 7th District favors GOP incumbent Tim Walberg, this race bears very close watching especially if a viable Democrat enters the race. The 8th District will likely see yet another rematch of 2010 candidates when Republican incumbent Mike Rogers will face Lance Enderle for the Democrats with Rogers winning again.

In redistricting, Democrats Sander Levin and Gary Peters were drawn into the same district, as expected. In what would have been a bruising primary, Peters instead decided to run in the newly drawn 14th district. Since Republican state representative Marty Knollenberg was considering a run against Peters and his home was drawn out of the district, that will not happen now. Instead, it looks like Dan Volaric, who lost in 2010 to Levin, will lose again to Levin in 2012. Republican Candice Miller is safe in the 10th District. In fact, some polls showed she would be very competitive against Stabenow if she aspired to the Senate. McCottter was deemed the most vulnerable Republican in Michigan, although redistricting helped him out a little, although he is not out of the woods yet. The aforementioned Knollenberg would have been a perfect fit for this district, but he stated he would not challenge an incumbent in a primary, thus only enhancing his star power in the Michigan GOP. McCotter will likely face Syed Taj for the Democrats in November.

District 12 is safely in the hands of John Dingell and John Conyers will keep his 13th District after Hansen Clarke decided to run in the new 14th District. This then sets up a primary in that district between Clarke and Gary Peters with the winner probably prevailing in the general election.

When all is said and done, Obama will garner Michigan’s 16 electoral votes in a race that will be closer than 2008. The Senate race can change on a dime, but at this point, given the advantages of incumbency and her advantage in money, I will go on a limb and give Stabenow a razor thin victory. Finally, the current congressional delegation is 9-6 Republican. Come 2013, it will be 9-5 Republican, representing a loss of one Democrat (or a gain of one Republican in the running count).

Running totals thus far:
Obama 145 electoral votes to 165 for GOP nominee;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats, and;
Net loss of 8 House seats.

Next: Indiana, part 1