Democratic Path To Legislative Control Is A Tight Rope
With 20 days to go before Election Day, it's clear that everything is going to have to go just right for Democrats – and just wrong for Republicans – if Democrats are going to win one or both houses of the Legislature.
In the Senate, Democrats need to flip eight seats (assuming they win the governorship, and it's safe to assume if they win eight, then Gretchen Whitmer wins the governorship and Garlin Gilchrist can break the 19-19 tie as lieutenant governor) and the playing field of competitive seats is realistically eight, maybe nine or 10 under the rosiest Democratic scenario.
There's a theory going around regarding the race for partisan control of the House and Senate, one I did not come up with but with which I concur, that Democrats will either flip three or four seats in each chamber and fall well short of seizing control from the Republicans or will flip a pile of seats in both and take control.
Here's why: Democrats need to flip seats in wealthier suburban areas with large percentages of college-educated voters where historically they have seldom, if ever, won, but that are shifting away from Republicans out of anger at President Donald Trump. While we look at races individually, national political dynamics are the major driver of what happens and there's a good argument to be made that when looking at the nine House and Senate seats under close watch in Oakland and Wayne counties, most of them are going to go in the same direction.
These seats are vulnerable for the same reasons. If some go, they all could go.
So, looking at this year, it seems possible for the five House seats clustered in southern Oakland and northwest Wayne County, all in Republican hands and fiercely contested by Democrats, that one party will win four or five of those races as opposed to a 3-2 split. The same could be said for some seats in northern Oakland County that are farther off the radar screen, along M-59, where Republicans appear concerned though Democrats have concluded they must stick to their priority seats and not spread themselves too thin and so are not investing. It stands to reason, though, that if the seat in the Clarkston area flips, so would the seat in Rochester and Rochester Hills.
Two House seats in northern Michigan, one running from Ludington to Northport and the other in Grand Traverse County, seem likely candidates to go the same direction.
Looking at the Senate, with the four seats in Oakland and Wayne counties up for grabs, again, it seems like one party is going to win three of the four. Either the environment propels these Democratic candidates to victory in places they have never won or it doesn't.
There are some overlapping House and Senate seats that would seem likely to go the same way. There's a good case to be made that Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Oshtemo) and Sen. Margaret O'Brien (R-Portage) will either be celebrating victory or mourning defeat together. The same is probably true in the Muskegon area where the 34th and 91st House districts seem like good candidates to go the same direction.
The 10th Senate District and the 25th House District in Macomb County show similar leanings.
Sometime after midnight November 7, we could be talking about Democrats gaining seats but falling short of flipping the Legislature and Republicans avoiding a wholesale incursion by Democrats into longtime GOP territory. The other scenario looks like what Republicans did in 2010 when they won every seat in sight and then some to win majority, though this time it's Democrats cleaning up and winning control with victories in places where the caucus didn't spend a dime.
Republicans are spending in places no one ever thought they would have to defend to limit the damage and prevent such a scenario.
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Gilchrist Troubles: Real Concern Or Irrelevant To Who Wins Governorship?
Should Garlin Gilchrist get to raise his right hand while standing on the Capitol steps on a cold January 1 early afternoon and take the oath as Michigan's lieutenant governor, one can hope this campaign has taught him a critical lesson. Namely: pay attention to things.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Bill Schuette's campaign has gone after Mr. Gilchrist almost as much as it has the actual Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Gretchen Whitmer. As to how successful that strategy will be, the results of November 6 will be the final arbiter. In the meantime, once could ask former President Mike Dukakis how much of a role going after then-U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle, the 1988 Republican nominee for vice president, played in that race. That's a rhetorical question, and Democrats are openly mocking the Schuette campaign for trying to make the race about the lieutenant governor when everyone knows no one votes based on lieutenant governor.
It is true, though, that Mr. Gilchrist has been getting attention for all the wrong reasons. When he was selected by Ms. Whitmer questions were raised about his overall lack of governing experience. Those questions have largely fallen away as attention has focused on his:
- Failing to turn in all his paperwork related to his 2017 run for Detroit city clerk and failing to pay fines related to that failure;
- Posting tweets nearly a decade ago seen as criticizing Israel and at least giving succor to Hamas, and most seriously;
- The revelation that a duplex he had purchased in Detroit as a renovation project was still largely a wreck, the neighbors were upset and he had missed paying property taxes on it. The taxes have since been paid, and Mr. Gilchrist has said he ran out of money to continue the project and has had trouble raising funds because he was campaigning for city clerk in 2017 and lieutenant governor in 2018. Which may not have been the most sensitive way to characterize why he has struggled to raise the necessary funds.
Each of these incidents could be rationalized away if someone was trying to defend him. No, he should not have missed the campaign filing deadlines, but the political highway is littered with candidates who failed to meet deadlines. Should he have stood up for Hamas, well, he's not much more than a kid now and this was 10 years ago. Leaving a wreck of a building, again, no he should not have done that, but he took a chance on redeveloping a blighted building, an admirable idea, and urban America is full of abandoned buildings. Again, these are rationalizations.
But rationalizations won't do right now.
Mr. Gilchrist is also the lieutenant governor candidate to potentially cause the most headaches for the top of the ticket since Jim Damman in 1974 did for Governor William Milliken. But there is a major difference, Mr. Damman was accused – accusations never proven – of engaging in fraud. Mr. Gilchrist is accused of being careless and indifferent.
Nor is he the only person who needed to pay better attention. Ms. Whitmer's vetting staff did her no favors by not better finding these issues and resolving them to the degree they could be resolved before he was selected.
Putting aside his faults and talents, and he has both, Mr. Gilchrist was the key to important coalition building for the Democrats. Democrats were worried about losing the progressive wing of the party because Dr. Abdul El-Sayed lost the primary to Ms. Whitmer. They saw what happened two years ago. Jill Stein got 30,000 more votes for the Green Party than she did in 2012, in part because angry progressives voted for her rather than Hilary Clinton. President Donald Trump won the state by about 10,000 votes. It could be argued that Democrats were more pressed on coalition building than on meeting political basics in ensuring the candidate has no obvious detractions.
And paying attention for Mr. Gilchrist will mean more than minding his p's and q's when it comes to what he does off hours. Because there are no off hours for the person holding the state's second-highest office. He must pay attention to what is happening in the state and in the Capitol to get the policies he and Ms. Whitmer want enacted. We'll see, if Ms. Whitmer wins on November 6, if he has learned that lesson.
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