Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Battleground Michigan

In Governor, House, Polling, Senate on October 9, 2013 at 11:05 am

There’s a great deal of news affecting Michigan politics this week.

First, Republican senatorial nominee Terri Lynn Land announcing that she will report more than $2 million raised in the quarter ending Sept. 30 is clearly a positive sign for her campaign. Irrespective of the fact that $1 million of the money came as a self-funding donation, the aggregate figure suggests that her campaign is off the ground in a significant way. This, coupled with relatively recent polling data projecting that she and Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14), the consensus Democratic candidate, are virtually tied, is making the GOP leaders’ case that the open Michigan Senate race will become a highly competitive national campaign.

At the end of the previous quarter, Rep. Peters had already banked more than $1.7 million. His third quarter entry is expected to top $3 million in aggregate dollars raised. The combined Democrat and Republican monetary amounts is beginning to boost this race into the top national tier.

Second, earlier in the week Public Policy Polling, surveying for the MoveOn.org PAC, examined 24 Republican congressional districts in order to test GOP incumbents against the charge that they are solely responsible for shutting down the government. Though the timing of the polling and slanted questionnaires skews the data, some tangible information did come forth. Of the 24 tested Republican House members, seven found themselves trailing a generic Democratic placebo by nine points or more. Three of the seven hail from Michigan.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI-7), who scored a strong but not overwhelming 53-43 percent win last November in his post-redistricting 7th CD, trailed the generic Democrat 42-51 percent.

Freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI-11), who is already facing a strong Republican primary challenger, placed 15 points behind the generic D, 39-54 percent.

The member faring the worst of all 24 tested, sophomore Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI-1), drops behind a Democratic placebo by 22 full points, 35-57 percent. While these numbers come from polls designed to produce a specific negative result against all of the tested Republican incumbents, the fact that such a large percentage of the worst finishers come from Michigan suggests that serious 2014 competition is headed their way.

Third, sophomore Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-3) who, for a time, was publicly considering becoming a Senate candidate, has now drawn at least one primary challenger and may have another.

Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis, who had been preparing for an intra-party challenge to Amash, officially announced his candidacy this week. State Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Kent County) publicly stated that he, too, is considering entering the primary contest against Amash. While a crowded primary would help the congressman win renomination, any type of strong primary competition could make him, or the eventual non-incumbent winner, more vulnerable to a Democratic challenge in the general election.

Fourth, add a competitive governor’s race to the mix as first-term incumbent Rick Snyder (R) will face a strong challenge from former Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI-7). The ex-House member also served in the Michigan House and Senate, and then defeated freshman Rep. Walberg in 2008, but lost the seat two years later to the same man in a re-match. Despite the loss of his congressional post after just one term, Schauer is still viewed as a viable Democratic statewide contender.

Fifth, the Republicans are also defending their majorities in both the state Senate and House. While the Senate majority stands at a robust 26-12, the party’s House margin is more vulnerable: 59-51.

All of these factors taken in their entirety means Michigan may become the hottest political state in the country next year. The culmination of this week’s events brings such an observation closer to reality.

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