(MI-03) - Vern Ehlers to retire. 49-48 McCain seat, 59-40 Bush seat

Vern Ehlers, longtime moderate congressman for the Michigan 3rd district has announced he will retire at the end of his term. This is going to be an interesting race to watch. John McCain only got 49% in this district. However, Bush got 59-60% twice in this district. There’s already one challenger for the seat, as State Rep Justin Amash announced a primary challenge the day before his retirement.

This seat should stay ours, but I am a little concerned about it. I did an in depth write-up of this district last January on my own blog, which has the number breakdowns. I’ll give the quick rundown here. This district covers all of Barry and Ionia County, and all of Kent County outside of Alpine Township, precinct 2 in Solon Township, Sparta, and Tyrone Townships. It was a 50-50 district in 2008.

The City of Grand Rapids is democrat. The rest of the area leans republican in most years, but Obama won Kentwood, Wyoming, and East Grand Rapids in Kent County, Belding, Portland, Ionia, Ronald Twp, and North Plains Twp in Ionia County, and Hastings and Castleton Twp in Barry County. Bush won every one of those areas twice outside of the City of Ionia (which is a true swing area) which he lost narrowly in 2000.

There has been a long blue shift in part of this district. Grand Rapids itself was competitive in 2000, then went to 55% Democrat in 04, and exploded to 65% democrat in 2008. It’s minority population is fairly large and growing, and it also has a large number of college students. Back in the 1970’s, both state rep districts based there were democrats, then it went to one democrat and one republican up until 2006, where it once again went for two democrats. Kentwood, East Grand Rapids, Spencer Twp, Cascade Twp, has shifted as well from 2000 to 2004. I can’t pin that as an Obama 2008 aberration.

The district overall was a near perfect storm in 2008.

1. McCain quit Michigan, and announced it to the world. That demoralized conservatives and Republicans. A lot of them stayed home.

2. There is a strong good government streak in Kent County and Western Michigan (Gerry Ford types). Democrats have been fighting on this turf for a long time.

3.  Grand Rapids minorities voted. Grand Rapids normally does not vote 65% democrat.

4.  More people have moved to West Michigan, including some from Chicago area. Most aren’t of Dutch ancestry and don’t have the 70%+ loyalty to the GOP the Dutch do.

5. Bush anger.

6. Bad economy that has hit East Michigan for a long time hit the west side as well.

7. Significant dove streak here on foreign policy.

However there is one exception.

1. Strong personal popularity of Vern Ehlers and ticket-splitting.

I don’t expect that to happen again in 2010 for a few reasons. Bush is gone. Kent County Republicans aren’t likely to be caught offguard in 2010. Abortion funding in health care doesn’t go over well here.  No change in the war policies from Obama to Bush. Obama has his own problems. Just four years ago this was almost a 60-40 GOP district.  I think the best candidates for the democrats will be running in the 29th State Senate district instead which is a 50/50 district in a good year. That is opening up as Bill Hardiman is term limited. Hardiman is a moderate Republican who showed his electoral strength by winning the state senate seat in 2002 and 2006 (a democrat year). He’s rumored to be running for the 3rd. The other reason is that the democrats would have to run the table. They need to win all the areas Obama won in 08, and win Grand Rapids with 65% and overperform Obama’s numbers in other places. That is something I do not expect to happen in 2010 with an open gubernatorial seat leading the way.

The one thing that will probably determine our chances here in holding the seat is the primary. There’s an extremely long list of potential republican candidates in Kent County alone. There’s only a few viable democrat candidates who can give a real scare, with their best candidate likely running for state senate. Justin Amash is running. Bill Hardiman is likely to run, and he comes from the most democrat part of the district. I’d watch for former Lt Governor Dick Posthumus, Jerry Zandstra, one of the Glenn Steils, Ken Sikkema, Mark Jansen, Brian Calley, Gary Newell, Kevin Green, or Tom Pearce to make a run, along with a possible countywide officer from Kent County. With Bouchard’s early polling numbers, would Terri Lynn Land drop her Lt Governor bid for a Congressional run? (I’m probably going to hear about that comment later. Pure speculation, nothing more.) If the primary looks like it may be divisive, look for that “safe choice” to be recruited. I expect that to be either Land or Posthumus, maybe Hardiman.

I think this seat will stay in R hands, but it’s one we need to keep an eye on this November.