As the state legislative campaigns wound down in late October 2006, most Michigan political experts expected Democrats to gain control of at least one chamber in state legislature. However, the money was on the Democrats picking up seats in the State Senate rather than the State House. After all, the Republican controlled state legislature had effectively gerrymandered many State House districts in 2001 that almost guaranteed GOP control over the next decade. The gerrymandering was less severe in the State Senate, which featured very competitive races in Oakland, Kent, Muskegon, and Wayne Counties. While much attention was focused on the gubernatorial battle between Governor Jennifer Granholm and challenger Dick DeVos, both parties also exerted strong efforts for legislative races.
Yet it was the State House where the Democrats gained a majority in November of 2006. In the lower chamber the Democrats gained six seats that resulted in a 58 to 52 margin in the State House. Democratic lost two close challenges in the State Senate that preserved a slim 21-17 Republican edge for the next four years. In the 6th District Democratic Representative Glenn Anderson beat incumbent senator Laura Toy by a narrow margin. However in the 13th (Oakland County) and 32nd (Saginaw and Gratiot Counties) the Democratic candidates (Andy Levin and Carl Williams) fell to Republicans John Pappageorge and Roger Kohn respectively. Both of these defeats were aided in part by Green Party candidates, who won many more votes than the difference between the two party vote in each district, votes that would very likely have gone to the Democratic candidate. The Democrats also fell short in two races on the west side of the state, with Democratic Representative Alexander Lipsey losing to Republican Senator Tom George in the 20th District (Kalamazoo County), and former Democratic Representative Julie Dennis losing in her effort to knock of incumbent Republican Gerald Van Workom in the 34th District (Muskegon, Mason, Newaygo, and Oceana Counties). In addition, Republican Senator Bill Hardiman held off Democratic challenger David LaGrand in the 29th District (Grand Rapids & Kentwood), despite outspending LaGrand by a 2.5 margin. Of these six narrow races, the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) actively spent money on the first four races, while the Coalition for Progress focused much of its funds in support of Lipsey, Levin, and Anderson. The MDP also spend funds on races in the 7th (western Wayne County), the 17th (Monroe and portions of Jackson and Washtenaw Counties), and the 25th District (Lapeer and St. Clair Counties).
Democratic electoral success continued in 2008, as the party rode on the Obama coattails and hard work on Election Day. With McCain withdrawing resources from the state in early October, Obama won 57.3% of the total vote, and Democratic Senator Carl Levin was reelected with 62.6%. Democrats picked up two Congressional seats (the 7th and the 9th Districts), and further their edge in the State House by gaining 9 seats (and currently hold a 67 to 43 edge in the chamber).
The 2010 election cycle presents new challenges for the Michigan Democratic Party. While Democratic control of the State House is likely to continue after the 2010 elections, the party must defend the open gubernatorial seat through the likely candidacy of Lt. Governor John Cherry. Gaining control of the State Senate is perhaps the most crucial aspect to controlling the redistricting process in 2011, a process that will likely involves the reduction of the state’s congressional delegation from 15 to 14 due to stagnate population growth. In order to gain control of the upper chamber the MDP will need to hold one open seat (Mark Shaurer’s 19th District) and capture three other seats. Should the Democrats gain control of the State Senate, it would be the first time since 1985, ending more than twenty five years of Republican dominance. This post will briefly explore Michigan’s political history before further examining potential 2010 battleground districts in the State Senate.
(Next week Thursday: Part II)