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2014 midterms: The state of play in Michigan

May 28, 2014, at 4:13 PM
 
Gov. Snyder will have to get past opponent Mark Schauer before he can go national.

Gov. Snyder will have to get past opponent Mark Schauer before he can go national. Photo: (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Recently on Political Wire's podcast, we spoke to Susan Demas of Inside Michigan Politics about some of her state's key races in 2014, including its marquee U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections.

Here are five takeaways:

1. In the U.S. Senate race, both major parties' candidates have institutional advantages. Democrats have a solid, if uncharismatic, candidate in Rep. Gary Peters (D), a one-time investment banker who represents a district in the Detroit area. "I think that Gary Peters has the institutional advantage because Michigan has gone blue in federal elections pretty consistently for a couple decades," Demas said. That might normally spell the end of Republicans' chances, but don't overlook former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R). Not only can she devote some of her personal fortune to the race and raise a lot of money, but she's also running in a time when sixth-year doldrums are dragging down the president's poll numbers and when the president's absence from the ballot will likely depress Democratic voter turnout. "She has a built-in advantage, I believe, because it does look like it's going to be a good year for Republicans nationally," she said. Expect this race to be close.

2. Like so many other big races this year, Michigan's will be marked by a deluge of outside spending. Most of the spending already has come from outside the state, Demas said. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-affiliated conservative group, has attacked Peters for his support of ObamaCare with ads featuring individuals speaking into a camera about their negative experiences. Even though fact-checkers have flagged some of these ads as misleading or inaccurate, they'll still be emotionally powerful and compelling, Demas said. The PAC of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who's trying to preserve the majority for his Democrats, is also expected to spend big in the state. All in all, spending from outside groups, PACs, left-leaning interest groups, and right-leaning and business-friendly groups could push this race into the $20 million category, Demas suggested. That's not entirely surprising, given what's at stake, but it's still a large number.

3. The Dingell family will likely continue adding to its records in the next Congress. Already the Dingell family name is iconic in Michigan, thanks to Rep. John Dingell's (D) long record of service. Dingell, 87, is the longest-serving dean of the House and the longest-serving member of Congress. Now that he's planning to retire, who else to replace him but another Dingell? His wife, Debbie, a Democratic national committeewoman and a member of the board of governors at Wayne State University, is running for his seat. She faces no significant primary opposition and would be the heavy favorite in November in the solidly Democratic 12th Congressional District. If elected, she'd be the first-ever person to succeed his or her living spouse in Congress. "This is just one more record for the Dingell name," Demas said.

4. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is favored but not a sure bet for re-election. Snyder ran in 2010 as a self-avowed nerd and pragmatist who would govern with transparency and with the best available data and evidence, Demas said. While he has maintained an element of pragmatism — most notably through expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare — he has fallen short in the transparency and evidence departments among many Michigan residents, Demas said, letting his Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, get within striking distance. Snyder won't disclose his NERD Fund PAC's donors, and many people question whether his education reforms were based on the best evidence, Demas said. "I think that stuff has come as a bit of a disappointment to some of his fans who weren't members of the Republican Party," Demas added. But Schauer faces an uphill battle to close the gap further; he will be at a big disadvantage financially to Snyder, who has both his personal fortune, the incumbency, and outside spending to benefit him.

5. Should Snyder try to become more of a national figure? Maybe he should get his election out of the way first. Snyder has said that he hopes his governing philosophy will serve as an example to other Republicans nationally. He has stopped well short, however, of suggesting that he'll run for president in 2016. Still, a lot of Snyder's GOP allies and team members have pushed him to take more of a national profile, given some of his accomplishments as a GOP governor in a blue-leaning state, Demas said. But those national ambitions may need to take a backseat to other, more pressing priorities, Demas, said: "He will have to first survive his election bid and then we'll see where his name goes nationally."

Listen to the whole conversation here:

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