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.