Blog Posts For The Week Of October 24, 2014 Through October 30, 2014

Looking At The Michigan House Elections, Part 2
By Zachary Gorchow
Editor

Posted: October, 30 2014 12:15 PM

One of the fun aspects about tracking the race for control of the Michigan House is that a week out from the election, there’s almost always a wide range of potential outcomes, and this year is no different.

Republicans now control the House 59-50 with one independent. But for the purposes of this election, think of it as 59-51 because that independent represents a solidly Democratic district and will be replaced in 2015 by a Democrat.

Today, we’ll look at the best potential Republican scenario. Yesterday’s blog was a look at the best-case Democratic possibility.

Mid-terms are generally favorable terrain for Republicans in the Michigan House. In the term limits era, from 1998 to the present, Republicans have averaged a gain of six seats in mid-terms. Democrats did gain seats in one of those elections, 2006, but that was a year when the top of the Democratic ticket won in blowouts and there was a huge national tide against President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress.

Those dynamics are not in place this year. But it’s also not shaping up as the bloodbath of 2010 when Republicans won everything and gained a stunning 20 seats in the House.

Even in the worst Republicans scenario, they are going to gain a seat, the 84th House District in the Thumb, where term limits prevents Rep. Terry Brown (D-Pigeon) from running again for the Republican-leaning seat. That means Republicans can still lose four seats and keep an outright majority. A five-seat loss leading to a 55-55 tie would unquestionably be a de facto win for the Democrats.

The focus always is on whether the party out of power can retake control, but in a mid-term, a just as relevant question is can the Republicans add to their existing majority.

And right now, there are good opportunities to add seats. Republican former Rep. Holly Hughes of Montague is waging her fourth bid for the 91st District, trying to unseat the woman who ousted her in 2012, Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague). Ms. Hughes lost in 2008, won in 2010 and lost in 2012.

Suburban Muskegon County voters seem to enjoy booting their incumbents for whatever reason, and given how slim Ms. Lamonte’s victory in 2012 was, this is going to be a very tough hold for the Democrats. That could be the second pick-up for the GOP.

Then there’s Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge). She became the first Democrat in 50 years to win her Eaton County seat in the 71st District, and Republicans have a strong challenger. Again, this is a tough hold. That could be pick-up number three.

The next three potential seats are tougher. Republicans love their candidates against Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights), but those should be slightly easier holds for the Democrats than the 71st and 91st.

In the 62nd District in Battle Creek and environs, Republicans have a strong candidate in John Bizon, a well-known and well-funded physician, and if it wasn’t for this district leaning Democratic, he would be the prohibitive favorite.

The problem for the GOP is that it will likely lose some of its seats. Losing the 56th District in Monroe County and 61st District in southwest Kalamazoo County looks highly possible, maybe even probable, after candidate miscues. Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) is on the ropes in the 41st District. Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) is in the fight of his political life in the 99th.

If we give the Republicans four pick-ups (the Thumb seat, the Battle Creek seat as well as ousting two of the four Democratic incumbents), that gets the GOP to 63 seats. But it is hard to see them holding onto the 56th and 61st unless the overall Republican ticket has a much better night than expected. The GOP could keep the rest of its seats, if narrowly.

That caps the best possible scenario for Republicans at 61 seats. That would give the party a solid, if not overwhelming, five-seat cushion heading into the 2016 election when the combination of a presidential year and a slew of open seats in competitive districts where Republican incumbents cannot seek re-election because of term limits makes the dynamics favorable to the Democrats.

So to recap, on Tuesday, the House could be anywhere from a 55-55 tie after a four-seat Democratic gain to a 61-49 Republican majority after a two-seat gain.

History is on the Republicans’ side. But as I noted in a previous blog, Michigan has not seen a complex top of the ticket dynamic like this in the term limits era.

Looking At the Michigan House Elections
By Zachary Gorchow
Editor

Posted: October, 29 2014 1:39 PM

One of the fun aspects about tracking the race for control of the Michigan House is that a week out from the election, there’s almost always a wide range of potential outcomes, and this year is no different.

Republicans now control the House 59-50 with one independent. But for the purposes of this election, think of it as 59-51 because that independent represents a solidly Democratic district and will be replaced in 2015 by a Democrat.

Today, we’ll look at the best potential Democratic scenario and Thursday, the Republicans’ best-case outcome.

Mid-terms are generally tough sledding for Democrats in the Michigan House. In the term limits era, from 1998 to the present, Republicans have averaged a gain of six seats. Democrats did gain seats in one of those elections, 2006, but that was a year when the top of the Democratic ticket won in blowouts and there was a huge national tide against President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress.

Those dynamics are not in place this year. But it’s also not shaping up as the bloodbath of 2010 when Republicans won everything and gained a stunning 20 seats in the House.

Even in the best Democratic scenario, they are going to lose a seat, the 84th House District in the Thumb, where term limits prevents Rep. Terry Brown (D-Pigeon) from running again for the Republican-leaning seat. That means Democrats will have to flip six other now GOP seats to gain control – and keep all their other seats.

So what is the best-case Democratic scenario? Number one, other than the 84th, they have to keep all their existing seats, and that is going to be tough. Republicans are coming after four Democratic incumbents in a big way – Rep. Theresa Abed of Grand Ledge, Rep. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids, Rep. Collene Lamonte of Montague and Rep. Henry Yanez of Sterling Heights.

And a fifth seat, the 62nd District in Battle Creek and environs, is under major pressure with Rep. Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek) unable to run again because of term limits. Republicans have a strong candidate although the seat leans Democratic.

But it is possible through incumbency and the Democratic base in Battle Creek that the Democrats could keep all five. Can they gain six seats? Now that looks very difficult.

There are two seats where Democrats stand a great chance thanks to Republican candidate miscues, the 56th District in Monroe County and the 61st District in southwest Kalamazoo County, both of which have no incumbent running. Democrats are well-positioned in the 41st District in Troy against first-term Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy). That’s probably their third best-bet for a pick-up. A fourth possibility is unseating first-term Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township) although he is in better shape than Mr. Howrylak.

After that? Well, that’s where it gets tough. The remaining seats either feature Democrats trying to win districts that lean Republican, have a Republican incumbent seeking a third term, or both.

The significance of trying to oust a first-term incumbent vs. a second-term incumbent is big. Since term limits started, 19 incumbents have lost re-election in the general election, and only four were second-term incumbents (one of whom was undermined by redistricting, another was suffering from cancer that would lead to her death not long after the election and a third fell into scandal in his second term).

But there just are not many competitive seats with no incumbent or a first-term Republican incumbent, and to get to majority, Democrats have to take a shot at a few “veterans” (in the term limits era, two terms in the House makes someone a veteran).

Democrats are targeting Rep. Patrick Somerville (R-New Boston), Rep. Ray Franz (R-Onekama), Rep. Ben Glardon (R-Owosso), Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant), Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) and maybe Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) out of necessity.

Then there are five open seats in traditionally Republican areas where Democrats think they could catch a break thanks to strong Democratic candidates, weak Republican ones, or both.

The two where Democrats seem the most encouraged, based on where they are spending money, are the 43rd District in Oakland County and the 104th District in Grand Traverse County. In both cases, there are Republican candidates getting outspent and strong Democratic candidates working hard.

However, in all five of these seats, the Republican base is anywhere from 55 to 59 percent. That is a steep hill for any Democrat, no matter how strong, to climb, especially in a mid-term cycle.

Just winning one of these 11 races against second-term GOP incumbents or in Republican territory, especially with the overall dynamics, would be a major triumph.

That’s why it’s hard to see Democrats doing any better than 55 seats next Tuesday. The Democrats would surely take that. It would mean a 55-55 split, shared power and the ability to put the brakes on the Republican agenda.

One Endorsement Missing For Both Candidates
By John Lindstrom
Publisher

Posted: October, 27 2014 3:21 PM

The polls continually show a tight race for governor among the voters, but based on newspaper endorsements alone, Governor Rick Snyder is clearly beating his Democratic rival, Mark Schauer, by a landslide.

But at least one newspaper was not convinced to support Mr. Snyder. It was something of a pyrrhic victory for Mr. Schauer, however, because the Traverse City Record-Eagle didn’t endorse him either.

There was a lot of talk over the weekend about the Detroit Free Press editorial endorsement of Mr. Snyder, and as much on its anguished, indeed tortured, and regretful decision.

That the paper criticized Mr. Snyder almost more than it praised him, didn’t really bother Mr. Snyder’s campaign, which issued an email release saying Mr. Snyder was “running the table” on endorsements from Michigan newspapers (the Toledo Blade, which has many readers in Monroe and Lenawee counties, endorsed Mr. Schauer).

Except for one Michigan newspaper – one ball if we continue the billiards analogy – sitting in the middle of the table, seemingly untouched by the cue ball at any point.

The Record-Eagle continued with a fine American tradition of saying a plague on both your houses.

The paper rejected Mr. Snyder’s claim of not being a politician, blasting him for signing a right-to-work bill that was “shamefully” passed by the Legislature, said he has failed to get meaningful action on transportation funding, and said most of the job growth in the state has been due to the comeback of the auto industry.

While the Record-Eagle did credit Mr. Snyder for his attempts to get the state to accept elements of the Affordable Care Act and to get a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, underway, it summarized the governor saying, “He has not been the independent voice he promised to be.”

But Mr. Schauer fared no better with the newspaper, which said that he has not provided a substantive agenda for voters to make a decision. He has mainly criticized Mr. Snyder and the voters need more than that, the newspaper wrote.

The newspaper did suggest breaking the one-party lock on state government could be a good thing. Instead of saying Democrats could perhaps win the House or Senate, it said defeating Mr. Snyder could lead to that. One-party control has “led to much bad policy” and “trampling” of alternative views, the newspaper wrote.

That wasn’t good when Democrats completely ran state government, the Record-Eagle said (for those who remember those days more than 30 years ago), and it is not good now.

The Political Ads We Have Yet To See
By Zachary Gorchow
Editor

Posted: October, 24 2014 12:45 PM

As is always the case in the October of an election year, it is impossible to turn on the television and not see campaign advertisements.

What is interesting to me right now is the ads not airing, as in, which topics have the gubernatorial candidates and their allies emphasized in their news releases and comments to reporters, but not put their money where their mouth is when it comes to placing those messages on television.

On the side of the Democrats and their candidate, Mark Schauer, the big surprise to me right now is the lack of a real push on the troubled Aramark prison food services and other “scandals” they have emphasized about the administration of Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

The advertising message from Mr. Schauer, the Democratic Governors Association and now a labor group Working Voice, is simple and consistent: Mr. Snyder taxed pensions, cut taxes for big corporations and cut $1 billion from K-12 schools. Some of these ads also mention the substantial pay raises that Department of Treasury staff in charge of the state’s investments received, but that is as far as the ads go in playing the scandal card.

The liberal group Progress Michigan is stepping up its efforts on the Aramark contract, announcing today a second cable television buy to draw attention to the issue (though that will not likely come close to match the emphasis other entities have put on the pension tax and education funding). No ad attention has been paid to various transparency issues Democrats have played up all year on Mr. Snyder’s now defunct nonprofit fund and the troubles of his now resigned Michigan State Housing Development Authority chief, Scott Woosley, after the Michigan Democratic Party uncovered questionable expenses he billed.

Mr. Schauer also has yet to air an ad that lets voters see a lighter side of him that also emphasizes a key trait he would bring to governing along the lines of Mr. Snyder’s 2010 “One Tough Nerd” ad or Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters’ “Frugal” ad.

On the Republican side, for all the emphasis the party has put on Mr. Schauer holding the distinction of having the largest campaign finance fine in Michigan history as a result of violating the Michigan Campaign Finance Act while he was the Senate minority leader, that has yet to show up in an ad.

And there are Republicans wondering why Mr. Snyder has yet to play a little more offense and tout his record, specifically on Detroit, where the city is poised to emerge from bankruptcy in much better financial shape.

These omissions raise the question of whether the parties tested them as potential messages and saw them flounder with voters or if they simply concluded their money was best spent on a few targeted messages.

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John Lindstrom
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