Friday, April 9, 2010

State of the House: Part I


With the candidacy filing deadlines just over a month away, it is an opportune time to look at the state of play of the Michigan legislature. While pollsters are covering the gubernatorial race with increasing frequency, much of the noise regarding races in the State Senate and State House are is simply noise, and often is used by candidates (mostly of the Republican variety) who substitute updating their Facebook status with actual campaign.

The analysis below is the first part of a four-part series and covers the underlying situation in the Michigan State House. The second post examines the candidates who have thus filed to run for seats in the State House, and the third and fourth parts repeat the previous two pieces of analysis for the Michigan State House. As always, I maintain a listing of State House and State Senate candidates that includes the financial filing statements that can be obtained via a subscription by emailing


While in previous posts I had made some guesses as to which seats are the most vulnerable for a potential takeover by the opposing party, I want to quantify this estimation. Using a variation of the reputable House Vulnerability Index developed by Crisitunity at the Swing State Project, I have created my own District Vulnerability Index (DVI) which is shown in Table 1 below.

Some of the columns are pretty self-explanatory. Column 1 provides the House District number, 2 provides the current representative’s name, and column 3 the representative’s current term. Columns 4-5 provide the Democratic baseline number from the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections, with column 7 the three cycle average for the district. I tested this model out using the Presidential/Gubernatorial numbers from 2004 to 2008 instead of the baseline numbers, but went with the baseline numbers given that the higher ticket numbers distorts the DVI by giving a Democratic percentage that is much higher on the top of the ticket than for lower level races (like the state house and state senate). Column 8 provides my previous classification of the race in February 2010, and is included here to test its validity while using the DVI. Column 9 is the Partisan Voting Index, which is calculated by subtracting the statewide partisan average of 50% from the district’s average Democratic baseline found in column 7. Column 10 ranks the PVI for each district from 1 to 110, with 1 being most Republican and 110 being the most Democratic.

Column 11 is the perhaps the most important column in the entire analysis. As stated in previous analysis, incumbency is a wonderful advantage, as it provides funds, name recognition, and built in party support. In Michigan, incumbent candidates have a win percentage of nearly 95% every cycle in both the State House and State Senate since term limits were established in 1992, and despite the electorate being anti-incumbent in the 2010 cycle, the voters hate every incumbent expect their own. Column 11 is the Democratic candidate’s margin of victory from the 2008 cycle, and open seats (whether from term-limits or from candidates leaving the State House to pursue other opportunities) have no margin given. Columns 13 to 16 show the data used to determine column 11, providing the votes for the Republican candidate (Column 13) and the Democratic candidate (Column 14), the Democratic candidate’s two-party vote percentage (Column 15) and the Republican candidate’s two-party vote percentage (Column 16).

The DVI is shown in Column 12. The DVI is determined by multiplying Column 11 by 50 and adding the PVI rank in Column 10. Districts with no incumbent thus are at a greater risk for being taken over by the opposing party. Table 1 ranks the districts from the smallest to largest DVI.


To better understand Table 1, take a look at the first district on top of the list. House District 90 covers southeast Ottawa County and includes the cities of Holland, Zeeland, and Hudsonville within its boundaries. The district is currently represented by Republican Joseph Haveman, who is in his first term. The Democratic baseline in 2004 was 21.0%, 23.4% in 2006, and 28.7% in 2008, yielding an average Democratic baseline of 24.4%. I had previous given this district the status of Safe Republican, and with a PVI of negative 25.6%, it is not difficult to see why. This is the most Republican State House District in the state and has a PVI rank of 1. Haveman did well here in the 2008 election, pulling 31,233 votes, while his Democratic opponent Clay Stauffer received 12,011 and thus lost with a 44.5% margin. As a result, the 90th State House District has a DVI of negative 21.

Table 1 reveals how many districts are simply out of play for either party. It might have helped the GOP to run a candidate against Jimmy Womack in the 7th District, but given that the DVI is 159, the chances of a Republican knocking off a Democrat in northeastern Detroit are nil (heck, I bet Kwame Kilpatrick could still win this district if he survived a Democratic primary and was not prevented from running again by virtue of being a convicted felon and terms limits). I expect the 44 most Democratic districts and the 37 most Republican districts to remain under the control of their respective parties. However, a careful reader of Table 1 would note that Democrats currently control three Districts that have a strong Republican lean. Two of these seats are open (District 20 in western Wayne County and District 107 in the Upper Peninsula), while District 70 is held by first-term Democratic Representative Mike Huckleberry. While Huckleberry might be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, he was helped in 2008 by a strong name recognition and a divided Republican Party, a situation that will likely present itself again in 2010 should a divisive Republican primary occur.

In the coming months, watch the six most vulnerable Democratic seats. Five are open (Districts 20, 57, 65, 83, and 107), and present the GOP with an opportunity to narrow the Democratic control of the State House from 67 to 43 margin to a 62 to 49 margin. There are fewer vulnerable Republican seats, but leading the list are Districts 30, 85, 97, and 99. All of these seats are open and prime pickup territory for a strong Democratic candidate. Perhaps the most vulnerable Republican incumbent is Paul Scott, who represents District 51 in southern Genesee County. Scott, who has been rumored to be the Yob candidate for Secretary of State, is currently slotted to face Democratic candidate and UAW Local 651 President Art Reyes III in the general election.

While numbers are not destiny, the do provide a floor on which candidates much get their political footing. Stay tuned for Part II to see which candidates have filed for the August primary.

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