It’s very, very tough to defeat a Democratic U.S. Senator. In the last five election cycles involving 167 Senate races, only three incumbent Democrats have gone down in defeat: Tom Daschle in 2004 and Blanche Lincoln and Russ Feingold in 2010.
That’s why Republicans were thrilled to hear that Michigan senator Carl Levin is retiring after six terms. That brings to four the number of incumbent Democrats who are leaving, increasing the odds the GOP can pick up the six seats needed to take back Senate control in 2014.
But taking back Michigan won’t be easy. Republicans haven’t carried the state for president since 1988, and have won only one of the eleven races for U.S. Senate held there since 1978. Democrats already are recruiting suburban Detroit congressman Gary Peters and former governor Jennifer Granholm (last seen shouting at the top of her lungs at the 2012 Democratic convention in an inspired bit of demagoguery).
But Republicans have a good farm team to draw from. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, and Congressman Mike Rogers are all possible contenders. Libertarian-Republican Congressman Justin Amash may try to channel his inner Rand Paul into a bid for statewide office.
GOP chairman Bobby Schostak is convinced the seat is winnable. He points out that “this time we’ve got a governor with a successful track record at the top of the ticket and an open seat.”
And Michigan may be changing as old-time unions lose their clout — the state stunned the nation by passing a right-to-work law last December — and the state’s economy continues to lag that of the rest of the country.
The road to Senate control for Republicans remains rocky, but the path ahead is made a lot easier with every seat that opens up.