Friday, August 1, 2008

Michigan State House Primary 2008: What to Watch

Everyone may be at the lake, or doing something else to avoid the summer heat, but perhaps 20% of Michigan’s registered voters will trudge to vote in primary this Tuesday August 5, 2008. While I think it is a shame that only a fifth of the population cares about voting, I know that folks at WMR are following these races closely, and turnout will be much higher here. So, whether you are at the lake, at home, or at work, Michigan Liberal has put together a helpful guide for what to watch on primary night next week.

Every seat in the Michigan State House is up for election this year. As I have mentioned on earlier posts at Michigan Liberal and WMR, while there are 110 seats up for election, only half of these will be seriously contested by both parties. The Democrats have about 30 worry free seats, while the Republicans have 25. That is not to say that there will not be primaries for these seats-far from it. These safe seats are among the most desirable, since once one wins in August, the race in November will often be much easier. While this piece will examine a few of these races, they are not the primary focus.

Rather, the races to watch on Tuesday are the ones that will be seriously contested come November. The Democrats are keen to hold their majority, while the GOP is looking to pick up four seats to regain its supremacy and make Governor Granholm’s last two years in office much like her first four (2002-2006).

Aiding our efforts to understand the dynamics on Tuesday night are the recently submitted Pre-Primary finance statements required from all State House candidates. While money cannot always guarantee victory, it helps to make it possible and shows who is supporting each candidate. Parties are composed of factions, and primaries often reveal the divisions between various groups.

So, what races are ones to watch on Tuesday night? I have twelve that I will be following, and please feel free to add your own in the comments section. Discussion is what makes Michigan Liberal great, so let’s have plenty of it in the next few days. After August 5 I will be offering my thoughts on the results as the campaigns turn to the general election contest.

District 1 (Grosse Points, Harper Woods, and a portion of Detroit). Current Rep: Ed Gaffney-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline (Democratic average from 02, 04, and 06 results): 48.6%

This seat is being vacated by Republican Ed Gaffney, and has steadily trended Democratic over the past decade. The GOP primary has six candidates, while the Dems have four candidates. Republicans Daniel Granno (son of Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan) has raised $21,000 and has $6,607 on-hand as the end of July. Therese Joseph has just under $10,000 on-hand, although she has debts of about $5,000. John Simon has spent about $20,000, and has a minimal amount on-hand, while Grosse Pointe City Councilmember John Stempfle has over $20,000 on hand after raising $34,000. Mary Treder Lang has spent over $45,000, while Pete Waldmeir has less than $1,000 on hand.

Of the four Democrats, Harper Woods Mayor Kenneth Poynter has raised the most money, leaving 2006 candidate Timothy Bledsoe far behind with cash-on hand (Bledsoe is about $7,000 in debt according to the July report). Two other minor candidates have raised smaller sums.

Expect Poynter to win handily on Tuesday. The Republican primary looks a bit more confused, and I really can’t say who I expect to win. As far as I know, Gaffney hasn’t anointed a successor, although the GOP can only hold this seat if a moderate Republican wins on August 5.

District 51 (Southern Genesee County-includes Grand Blanc and Linden) Current Rep: David Roberston-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 47.4%

District 51 is home of a nasty GOP primary fight, which bodes well for the Democrats this fall. Current Representative David Robertson has struggled to hold this district due to his conservativism, which is ill-fitted for this swing district. The state GOP has poured money in this seat, as have the Democrats, and an open seat might allow the Democrats to regain this seat for the first time in six years.

There are three Democrats in the primary. Thomas McGee has raised a minimal amount of money, and is not seriously challenging for the seat. The main battle is between Michael Thorp and Rusty Ward. While Thorp has raised much more money than Ward (about $14,000 to Ward’s $4,000), the two candidates have a comparable remaining cash on-hand. Thorp’s widespread name recognition (a 35 year broadcaster for Flint’s ABC affiliate), will likely lead him to victory.

The three Republicans candidates have had a more difficult primary. Paul Scott (disclaimer: I went to school with Paul and am friends with him) has raised an enormous amount of money ($137,000-much of it self-financed), and has about $22,000 on-hand. Vincent Lorraine has out raised Scott, brining in $150,000, while holding a cash on hand balance of over $100,000 (Lorraine donated $40,000 to his campaign). James Swenor has also raised enormous sums, although he too has donated a good amount of funds from his own coffers.

Expect Thorp to win the Democratic field, while Lorraine will likely win a tightly contested GOP race. The GOP will gladly take both Lorraine or Scott, as they are desperate for self-funded candidates this cycle.

District 106 (Northeast Lower Peninsula, includes Alpena) Current Rep: Matthew Gillard-3rd Term (D) Dem Baseline: 49.5%

The Democrats have kept this seat by running candidates from Alpena, which is the population center for this district. Former Democratic state representative Andy Neumann should easily win the Democratic race against nominal opposition.

The Republican race is more contested. Presque Isle Township Supervisor Peter Pettalia is in a tight battle with Howard Viegelahan. Both are social conservatives, although Pettalia seems to have a great number of funders from established GOP fiscal sources. Expect Pettalia to win this primary.

District 24 (Macomb County’s Harrison Township and St. Clair Shores) Current Rep: Jack Brandenberg-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 50.4%

This seat is being vacated by Republican Jack Brandenberg. In true GOP, the party facilitated a handoff of the seat to Brandenberg’s son Bryn, who runs his dad’s business while father is in Lansing. Bryn (and his family) have given over half of the $40,000 his has raced for this race.

While the Republican side is settled, the Democrats have a field of eight candidates. The leading candidate the Democrats have is Sarah Roberts, who seems to have matched Brandenburg’s fundraising. Expect a showdown between these two to be fierce this fall.

District 37 (Farmington Hills and Farmington) Current Rep: Aldo Vagnozzi-3rd Term (D) Dem Baseline: 50.6%

The Democrats have one candidate for this seat-Vicki Barnett, who was the former mayor of Farmington Hills and has loads of governmental experience. She’ll be facing either Richard Lerner or Paul Welday in November. Welday has a massive fundraising edge over Lerner, and has close ties to Joe Knollenberg, and is an economic conservative. Lerner focuses has drawn more support from social conservatives. Expect Welday in a close race.

District 62 (Calhoun County-including Battle Creek) Current Rep: Mike Nofs-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 51.5%

This seat is one that the Democrats should kick themselves over if they can’t bring it back in the Democratic column. Calhoun County Commissioner Kate Segal has a financial edge over Tim Nendorf, and should gain a victory on August 5 due to her name recognition and years of service in the public eye. Segal also has strong support from Jon Stryker, who has given significant funds to Democrats in the 2006 cycle.

The Republican primary is getting ugly quick. Susan Baldwin (an heiress and Battle Creek City Commissioner) is facing off against professional legislative aide Greg Moore, who had some problems figuring out if he even lived in the 62nd District. Baldwin raised about $40,000, while Moore has raised about $23,000. Rumor is that Moore is running a harder campaign than Baldwin, and this is key to getting the small number of voters showing up to the polls. Expect Moore to face off against Segal.

District 108 (southwest Upper Peninsula, includes Dickinson, Menominee, and Delta Counties) Current Rep: Tom Casperson-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 52.1%

This seat was picked up by the Republicans in 2002 when Casperson pulled an upset against Bart Stupak’s wife Laurie. The Republicans have Mike Falcon running unopposed, while there is a four-way Democratic primary. Dennis Baldinelli and David Polzin have not run serious campaigns, leaving 2006 candidate Judy Nerat running against Janis Burgess. Burgess has outraised Nerat, but both candidates are well-set for the primary. Expect Burgess to win in a squeaker.

District 23 (Southern Wayne County) Current Rep: Kathleen Law-3rd Term (D) Dem Baseline: 53.5%

There is a large field of Democrats running for this seat (five candidates). Gibraltar Mayor Beaubien has strong labor ties and has raised a large amount of funds, leaving him in the front-runner position.

On the Republican side, J. Garza is facing off against Neil DeBlois. Expect a dog-fight between the two candidates, with Garza winning in a tight match.

District 61 (Eastern Kalamazoo County) Current Rep: Jacob Hoogendyk-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 44.5%

We have a great candidate in Julie Rogers, who is running again after nearly besting “Wacko-Jacko” in 2006. Rogers will be facing off against which ever Republican wins a three-way primary on Tuesday. All three Republicans are well-financed (Yardley has raised nearly all his money through personal wealth). Larry DeShazor is a moderate, and was recently endorsed by the Kalamazoo Gazette, which dismissed O’Brien’s efforts. Rogers would likely run well against conservative candidates, so let’s hope for a Yardley or O’Brien victory on Tuesday night.

District 101 (Benzie, Leelanau, Manistee, and Mason Counties) Current Rep: David Palsrok-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 44.8%

In 2006 Democrat Dan Scripps gave Republican David Palsrok a run for his money gaining 48% of the vote. A bitter four-way Republican primary has created a divided party that will certainly need Saul to come in to refill the coffers on August 6. I expect Michael McManus to win the primary, setting up a nice bruising battle for November.

District 32 (Eastern Macomb County) Current Rep: Daniel Acciavatti-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 46.1

The Dems have Jennifer Haase as their only candidate, who will face off against the winner of a four way GOP primary. Haase is extremely well-funded, and will likely face off against John Accavitti (the cousin of the current Representative).

District 75 (Eastern Grand Rapids) Current Rep: Robert Dean-1st Term (D) Dem Baseline: 50.6%

Dean faces no challengers in the Democratic primary, and waits to face the winner of the three-way GOP primary. The GOP establishment has appeared to back T.J. Carnegie, who is running a horrible campaign, and has little cash on-hand. Expect Dan Tietema to win this race, much to the GOP power brokers dismay, since they have never forgiven Tietema from bailing on running for Mayor of Grand Rapids in 2007. Whomever Dean faces, the GOP will need to provide serious funds to match Dean’s fundraising lead.

Most wacko GOP primary: District 72 (Southern suburbs of Grand Rapids) Current Rep: Glenn Steil, Jr.-3rd Term (R) Dem Baseline: 31.0%

The Democrats won’t win this seat, but watching the GOP beat each other up is grand. Meet Justin Amash-who left the brutal world of a cushy Grand Rapids law office to work at his family’s firm part-time to ensure campaigning time. Some of you might know Linda Steil, the wife of current Representative Glen “Light” Steil, Jr., who has no political experience and is working for her father-in-law’s business. The most competent GOP candidate is Ken Yonker, but leave it to the GOP to select a Ron Paul supporter like Amash.

Readers may note that many competitive seats (such as District 91) have no primary. For those, the state party steered challengers away from the ballot box, clearing the way for their preferred candidate.

Enjoy Tuesday night, and come back for some analysis after August 6.