The Electoral Map: Michigan

Unlike the drama likely to unfold in two previous entries in this series- Indiana and Missouri- the action in Michigan will be centered on the presidential sweepstakes and some competitive House races which features two open Republican-held seats.

First up- the Presidential election.  Every four years, we hear that Michigan’s 16 or whatever electoral votes are up for grabs or that it is a swing state.  Simply put, it isn’t.  Michigan has not awarded their electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988.  And despite Donald Trump’s assertions that he intended to enlarge the map for the GOP by winning states like Michigan and others in the Rust Belt, this writer sees otherwise.  If his manufacturing-based populist rhetoric cannot sway the voters of Michigan, it is then doubtful he can win elsewhere in this area with the exception of the more conservative Indiana.  That would intimate that Ohio and Wisconsin are also off the table, but they will be looked at a later point.

Donald Trump has shown improvement in this state since August.  In that month, out of six polls conducted, he trailed by over six points in those polls.  In September, he trailed by an average of 3.4 points in 14 polls, thus decreasing his disadvantage in half.  The problem is whether he can maintain that forward momentum and, if so, can it overcome that previous large disadvantage?

Recent history seems to be repeating itself here where the GOP candidate looks to Michigan and sees an opportunity, then dumps precious time and resources into a losing cause.  Despite his claims to contrary, one can expect Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to go to Hillary Clinton.  Trump will perform well in the usual areas of the state- the more rural ones- but Clinton will win the population centers.  The only silver lining for Trump is in the areas of college campuses where Bernie Sanders supporters may go for a third party candidate, but expecting these voters to jump ship for Trump is a tall order.

Michigan’s House delegation currently favors the Republican Party 9-5 which is somewhat unusual given the fact that Michigan is a somewhat blue state.  Unlike other states, we do not hear Leftist whining about political gerrymandering for this state of affairs.  The fact is that once out of the population centers of Detroit and it’s suburbs, Michigan is less liberal.  For example, five of the 14 districts involve Detroit or it’s immediate suburban counties.  Thus, the dynamic here is not unlike that in other states like Washington and Oregon where outcomes in places like Seattle and Portland, respectively, dictate the state’s outcome.

So, let’s first discard the non-competitive seats:

  • Republican Bill Huzienga in the 2nd District in the western portion of the state;
  • Republican Justin Amash in the 3rd around Grand Rapids;
  • Republican John Moolenaar in the central 4th district running unopposed;
  • Democrat Dan Kildee in the eastern 5th district including Flint;
  • Democrat Sander Levin in the 9th District in the Detroit area;
  • Democrat Debbie Dingell in the 12th, also in the Detroit area;
  • Democrat John Conyers in the Detroit-based 13th, and;
  • Democrat Brenda Lawrence in the Detroit-based 14th District.

In other words, all five Democrats will win reelection and three of the nine Republicans.  One can throw in Republican Mike Bishop in the Detroit western suburbs of the 8th District since he is running unopposed by a Democrat.  That leaves five Republican districts up for grabs to some degree.

The first is the open First District that encompasses the upper peninsula and northern tier of the state.  It is being vacated by Dan Benischek.  Jack Bergman won a relatively close primary race over the preferred Tom Casperson who had the endorsement of Benischek.  These are generally low-margin victories for the winning party and one should expect the same this year.  Bergman will face Michigan Democratic Party Leader Lon Johnson who defeated Jerry Cannon in their primary.  Republican turnout favored the GOP in the primaries 2:1.  In the presidential primary, Trump easily won this district over Ted Cruz and he should do likewise in the general election and carry Bergman to victory.

Next we move to the 6th District in the southwest corner of the state where Fred Upton will face Paul Clements in a rematch of 2014.  Then, Upton won by 14 points and although the race may be closer, one should Upton to keep his seat.  In the neighboring 7th District along the Indiana-Ohio border, incumbent GOP Tim Wahlberg faces Democratic opponent state representative Gretchen Driskell.  Some pundits put this race in the “leans Republican” category, but Wahlberg’s margins of victory indicate that he runs ahead of those at the top of the ballot.  Driskell may be his best challenger to date, but one would have to side with Wahlberg being reelected.

Republican incumbent Candice Miller is retiring in the 10th District located north of Detroit and along Lake Huron.  Under normal circumstances, an open race would draw more attention, but the Democratic Party is not putting too much faith into this race.  One should expect Republican candidate Paul Mitchell, who defeated four opponents in the GOP primary, to win.  Mitchell had previously run in 2014 in the neighboring 4th District losing the GOP nod to Moolenaar.

That leaves only the 11th District located in the immediate western suburbs of Detroit.  The district is currently represented by freshman Dave Trott who won in 2014.  He will face physician Anil Kumar who lost the 2014 Democratic primary to eventual general election loser Bobby McKenzie by less than 1,000 votes.  Trott went on to defeat McKenzie handily.  This time around, both candidates ran unopposed in their respective primaries.

Freshman representatives are always targeted by opponents before they become entrenched.  Trott’s victory in 2014 was impressive, but it also was not a presidential year, a wave year for the GOP, and he was running against a relatively weak candidate.  It remains to be seen if Kumar is any better.  Thus far, Trott’s fundraising prowess leaves something to be desired and leads Kumar by a 3:2 margin- not very encouraging for an incumbent.

While most expert pundits are looking at the 1st and 7th districts, they are overlooking this one.  To be sure, Johnson is vastly outraising and spending his GOP opponent in the 1st and Driskell is keeping pace with Wahlberg in the 7th, but if any Republican has a chance of losing, it is Trott in this writer’s opinion.  This is based on geography and district history that although electing a Republican House member often also votes Democratic at the top of the ticket.

It is quite possible that the GOP could potentially lose two seats in the House out of Michigan making their delegation 7-7.  However, I see a more realistic 8-6 split in favor of the GOP.  The question becomes which seat will fall.  Three seats would be an electoral disaster.

Although calling for Clinton to win the 16 electoral votes, how far her coattails extend into the congressional races is a matter of debate.  Remember that Bernie Sanders stunned the Clinton campaign in Michigan.  Although it may be too much to ask that the state will go for Trump, it is a more realistic assessment that the less-than-enthusiastic support for Clinton will cause too much damage down ballot.

Hence, give the electoral votes to Clinton and expect the GOP to lose one House seat.  After this entry, the electoral vote count stands at 180-175 in favor of Trump.  The GOP maintains it’s lead in the Senate 51-49 and in the House, 239-196.

Next: California where the focus will be on the House races.