Rep. Gary Peters, a House Democrat from Michigan who probably expected an easy road to a Senate victory this November, can breathe a bit easier at a poll out today that has him ahead of Republican Terri Lynn Land.
Peters is just below 40 percent, in a polling sample where 38.8 percent identified themselves as Democrat, 31.5 percent as Republican, 24.2 percent as independent. (In 2010, the last midterm election, a statewide exit poll indicated 44 percent of respondents self-identified as Republican, and 37 percent self-identified as Democrat.)
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is feeling optimistic about next year’s open-seat Senate race in Michigan. From a new memo by Ward Baker, NRSC political director:
If someone would have told me a year ago that the Michigan Senate seat would be in play in 2014 I would have encouraged them to seek professional help. I would have said that there’s no way, in a mid-term election with so many Senate seats in play, in states that President Obama lost by double digits, we would be focused on a state that Mitt Romney lost by nine points.
What a difference a year makes.
Michigan has undergone dramatic shifts in public opinion over the last twelve months. Nowhere is that shift more pronounced than in President Obama’s favorability. On Election Day 2012, Obama enjoyed a 57% fav-41% unfav image among Michigan voters, and took 54% of the vote. Today, his image has dropped to one-to-one (48%-46%) in the latest EPIC-MRA poll.
More critical, President Obama’s job performance rating is worse in Michigan than it is in some of the red states, with six-in-ten giving him a negative score (39% positive-60% negative). And, in a mid-term where Obama will not be on the ballot himself, it will be his job and not his likability that will have the most down-ballot influence.
At the same time, voters in the state are becoming less positive about the direction of the country under Obama (28% right direction-59% wrong track, was 31%-57% in May), and more positive about the direction of Michigan under a Republican Governor (42% right direction-42% wrong track, was 40%-46% in May). All this might explain why Sen. Carl Levin — who everyone assumes would have been a shoo-in for re-election — announced six months ago that he would not seek another term in the Senate.
Almost immediately, Rep. Gary Peters threw his hat in the ring. The same Gary Peters who has already been rejected statewide by Michigan voters once. The same Gary Peters who is virtually unknown by the majority of the state. The same Gary Peters who stood by idly, offering no hope and no vision, while Detroit — which he represents — literally went bankrupt.
National Democrats tripped over themselves to unite behind Peters’ lackluster candidacy, and have spent the better part of the last months trying to convince everyone, including themselves, that he’s a top tier candidate.
But the truth shall set you free, and the truth is that the environment is turning away from Democrats in Michigan. The truth is the majority of Michigan doesn’t have a clue who Gary Peters is. The truth is the few people in Michigan who actually do know who Gary Peters is are terribly unenthusiastic about his candidacy. But don’t take my word for it. One recent poll showed Gary Peters’ image is 18% fav-10% unfav, with over half not recognizing his name (55% never heard of).
By comparison, the Republican Terri Lynn Land has won statewide in Michigan. Twice. Land is better known and liked (28% fav-10% unfav) than her opponent, and performs extremely well on the ballot in multiple polls. She is within a point on the EPIC-MRA poll, leads in the recent Mitchell Poll from August (up from being tied in March), Denno Research has them currently tied, in March Harper Polling took a glance at the race and had Land up by eight (though Land and Peters both in the 20s at that point), and even PPP shows Land within striking distance.
With six polls showing this race is tight, President Obama’s popularity and approval plummeting, and the fact that most Michigan voters don’t have a clue who Gary Peters is, Michigan is one more state where Democrats will be on defense and Republicans will be on offense. It’s one more state (along with Kentucky, Georgia, Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina and South Dakota) where Democrats will be forced to spend millions to try and drag a lackluster candidate across the finish line. A daunting task made even more daunting given the fact that the DSCC is already drowning in debt.
Michigan is in play, and the Democrat majority is in serious jeopardy.
We should note that while Levin’s retirement may reflect concerns about poll numbers, it may also reflect that he’s 79 years old and has served six terms. The polling numbers are intriguing, though, and one has to wonder if Detroit will continue to be a reliable trove of votes for Democrats as the city’s quality of life continues to deteriorate. Also note that Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, has a healthy lead in his bid for reelection. Perhaps a wholescale urban economic disaster has scrambled the traditional political calculus in this state.
Back in early July, the National Republican Senatorial Committee met with Oakland County district-court judge Kimberly Small about the open Senate seat in Michigan, according to the Washington Post. A little bird familiar with Michigan politics tells me Small will make her decision by September 1, and is likely to run.
As a judge, Small doesn’t have the name ID in the political realm, but she has garnered some favorable coverage in her 17 years on the bench. Small currently is judge for a district that includes Michigan’s wealthier communities, including the charter townships of Bloomfield and West Bloomfield and the cities of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake Village, and Sylvan Lake.
Small garnered national headlines when she sentenced former University of Michigan and NBA basketball player Jalen Rose to 20 days behind bars for drunk driving, telling him, “You’re not here because you drank. I have no problem with that. Have at it. I do mind when you get behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle and use it as a weapon against the rest of us.”
She has garnered some controversy for sentencing nearly all first-time drunk-driving offenders to jail:
Of course, “she’s too tough on drunk drivers” is not a line often heard in attack ads.
Six-term incumbent senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, is retiring. Representative Gary Peters is expected to be the Democrats’ Senate nominee.
Terri Lynn Land, member of the Republican National Committee and former Michigan secretary of state, is the only other declared Republican candidate for Senate. Representative Justin Amash said last month he’s still thinking about it.
I would like to thank everyone who has been encouraging me to run for US Senate. Representing our magnificent state of Michigan and your interests in Congress would be the greatest honor. We need conservative leadership now more than ever because of high unemployment, huge deficits, and a spendthrift Congress.
Beginning today, I am putting together a campaign strategy and a policy team. I will be filing the appropriate paper work by July 1 to become a Republican primary candidate.
Now is our chance to win. I eagerly look forward to speaking with you face-to-face about ways to launch our country to prosperity while defending our liberty and freedoms.
Land served as Michigan’s secretary of state from 2003 to 2011; she won election and reelection handily in 2002 and 2006 while other Republicans had troubles winning other statewide offices in those cycles. She has been a member of the RNC since the 2012 convention.
Former Michigan secretary of state Terri Lynn Land decided against challenging two-term incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2012. According to the AP, former Kent County probate judge Randy Hekman is the only Republican so far to formally enter the race.
While Michigan is a traditionally Democratic state, Republican Rick Snyder easily won the state’s governor’s race last year, and Stabenow’s job approval has been as low as 37 percent.