Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Week: The Political Landscape of the Michigan State House and Senate

(cross-posted at WMR, ML, BFM, and SSP-pb)


A week from the November 2 election, races in the Michigan State House and Senate are coming down to the home stretch. Many pundits, anonymous party officials, and insiders believe that Republican Rick Snyder will be elected governor of Michigan over Democratic candidate Virg Bernero. Far less certain is the status of individual races in the Michigan legislature. While some pundits and partisan hacks boldly state that the Michigan Republican Party will hold 28 Senate and 59 House seats by the evening of November 2, the actual picture remains much more clouded. Can the Republicans capture thirteen seats to control the lower chamber? Will the Democrats be able to pick up four senate seats to control of the upper chamber for the first time since 1984?

The recent pre-general financial reports for candidates help shed light on the situation on the ground. Candidates must report the amount of money they have raised and spent between August 24 and October 17, and must also declare their cash on hand at the end of the reporting period. We can thus see how the financial condition of candidates has changed since the previous analysis in early September. As in previous analysis of the State House and Senate candidates, I have collected the reported financial data that can be viewed [https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AtAGGuZPwuifdFJhVm9UUmtCckxOMG91WVhXSVY0Zmc&hl=en&authkey=CPez8pgI via the linked Google document].

State Senate

In my early September analysis, I postulated that the Republican Senate candidates and caucus’ strong financial edge would limit any potential Democratic gains in the upper chamber to one or two seats. The pre-general election financial filings confirm the GOP’s strong financial edge, an edge which has increased over the past two months. Yet does this edge translate into a GOP gain of six seats in the senate as some have predicted?

Reviewing the financial statements, I see no reason to change the earlier assessment that Lansing will certainly see eleven Democrats in the State Senate come January 2011. However, the four Democratic-leaning seats are potential sleeper Republican pickup possibilities upon first glance. However, in the 6th District (Livonia and Westland) Democratic incumbent Glen Anderson has an 18 time cash on hand advantage over Republican challenger John Pastor, who only has $4,086 on hand.

The other three races present better opportunities for the GOP. In the 10th District (Sterling Heights, Roseville, and Clinton Township) Republican Representative Tory Rocca has a sizable financial edge ($129,944 cash on hand) over Paul Gieleghem (-2,472), although Gieleghem has outspent Rocca by almost $70,000. In the 31st District (Bay County and the Thumb Region) Democratic Representative Jeff Mayes’ financial edge has dissipated after outspending Republican Mike Green by almost $140,000, with each candidate having around $40,000 cash on hand for the last week of the campaign. Internal Democratic polling has Mayes leading by a sizable margin, which has led the Senate caucus to direct their financial resources to the 38th District, a seat being vacated by Democratic senator Mike Prusi. Democratic Representative Michael Lahti and Republican Tom Casperson are in a tight battle in a historic Democratic district in the Upper Peninsula. While Casperson is perhaps the best candidate the Republicans have fielded in the Upper Peninsula in the most Republican year in Michigan since 1998, the long-standing Democratic baseline strength gives the Democrats an even shot to hold this seat.

The ten Republican-leaning seats are likely to remain in the Republican column next week. However, three seats bear watching on election night. District 13 (eastern Oakland County), the site of an epic 2006 race between Andy Levin and John Papageorge, has a strong Democratic challenger in Aaron Bailey, who has spent $151,874 in the past two months. Bailey’s spending has been surpassed by Papageorge’s $325,553. In the 16th District (southern mid-Michigan) Democratic Representative Douglas Spade remains an underdog against Republican Representative Bruce Caswell, who has spent almost $140,000 in the past two months. With two weeks left, Spade has a small cash on hand advantage over Caswell, which could provide an opening for an upset. Finally, Republican incumbent “Raging” Roger Kahn has spent more than $200,000 to hold his 32nd District seat against Democrat Debasish Mridha, who has provided significant self-financing to remain competitive against Kahn. While the 32nd District has a historic Democratic-lean, Kahn’s previous success in this district keeps him favored a week before the election.

Of the five remaining swing seats, four are currently held by Republicans, and one by a Democrat. With the death of Democratic candidate Robert Jones, the 20th District (Kalamazoo County) looks to be leaning to Republican candidate Tonya Schuitmaker, who has $84,000 remaining in cash for the final week against Bobby Hopewell, the Democratic replacement candidate. Republican candidate Geoff Hansen also has a significant financial edge against Democrat Mary Valentine in the 34th District (Muskegon County), although Valentine’s formidable ground game might pull out a victory. Republicans have an even chance of flipping the 26th District (Genesee County and northern Oakland County), as Republican David Robertson is facing Democrat Paula Zelenko. While Democrat Deborah Cherry held this seat in 2002 and 2006, the 26th is much less Democratic than expected.

Senate Democratic caucus’ best chances of picking up seats appear to be in the 7th and 29th Senate Districts. The 7th (western Wayne County), features a four way race between Democrat Kathleen Law, Republican Patrick Colbeck, and two independent candidates (John Stewart and Michael Kheibari). While the 7th District has had a historic Republican lean, a former Republican moderate like Stewart will take some votes from Republican Colbeck that improves Law’s chances. In the 29th District (Grand Rapids and Kentwood), David LaGrand remains neck and neck with Republican Representative David Hildenbrand despite being outspent by almost $150,000 over the past two months. With a week to go, LaGrand has a $25,000 cash on hand advantage over Hildenbrand

If the election was held today, I’d expect the Democrats to pick up two seats in the senate (Districts 7 and 29) while losing one (District 26), leaving 21 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the upper chamber. However, with a week left, the picture is far to fluid to make a final assessment. I’ll be watching the following seats on election night: Districts 7, 10, 13, 16, 20, 26, 29, 31, 32, 34, and 38.

State House

In September I noted that both parties had a number of safe seats in the State House that are not going to attract the attention of the opposing party. 35 Democrats and 27 Republicans will assuredly return to Lansing. Of the remaining seats, 18 lean Democratic, 14 lean Republican, and 16 swing seats.

Of the Democratic-leaning districts, only five bear watching on election night. In District 15 (Dearborn), Republican Suzanne Sareini remains financially competitive against opponent Democrat George Darany in a district that was a swing seat earlier in the decade. Likewise, in the 26th District (Royal Oak), Democrat James Townsend has recovered from an expensive primary to pull into a financial advantage against Republican Kenneth Rosen. In the 55th District (Monroe and Washtenaw Counties) the Democratic candidates Michael Smith has increased his financial edge against Republican Rick Olson. In the 75th District (eastern Grand Rapids) Democratic candidate Brandon Dillon seeks to hold an open Democratic seat against Republican businessman Bing Goei. The Michigan Democrat House caucus’ decision to dump $125,000 into the race in the past few days symbolizes the trust the caucus has in Dillon’s ability to hold this seat. In the 110th District (western Upper Peninsula) Democrat Scott Dianda has a significant financial edge over Republican Matt Huuki, although the edge many Republican candidates have might help Huuki in this historic Democratic district. Finally, the 31st District is a Democratic-held seat in Macomb County that could be a potential Republican pickup opportunity. Marilyn Lane is facing Republican Dan Tolis, who has poured more than $100,000 into his campaign coffers. Tollis has raised and spent little money since August 23 (raising $458 and spending $4,714), while Lane has spent heavily on the race.

Of the 14 Republican-leaning seats, three are being vacated by term-limited by Democratic incumbents (Districts 20, 83, and 107) and are likely Republican pickups. Six of the 14 seats are held by Republican incumbents, and face no competitive Democratic challenger. Of the five open Republican seats, GOP candidates have a small to significant financial advantage.

Of the remaining 16 seats, five are held by Democratic incumbents. The five Democratic incumbents (District 1, Tim Bledsoe; District 21, Dian Slavens; District 24, Sarah Roberts; District 39, Lisa Brown; District 70, Mike Huckleberry) all have large financial advantages over their Republican opponents, although Mike Hukleberry’s financial edge has shrunk with his massive spending against Republican Rick Outman.

The five Republican-held swing seats, all are open seats. Districts 30 (Sterling Heights), Districts 71 (Eaton County), 85 (Shiawassee County), 97 (Clare, Gladwin, and Arenac Counties), and 99 (Isabella and Midland Counties) all feature close races, although Democrats are in stronger shape in the 30th and 97th Districts.

The six open Democratic held seats are all in danger of being Republican pickups. The Republicans look especially competitive in Districts 52 (western Washtenaw County), although Republican Mark Oumiet’s financial shenanigans while a county commissioner are catching up to him. In districts 65 (Jackson County) and 91 (Muskegon County), self-financing Republicans Mike Shirkey and Holly Hughes are likely to pick up these seats. The 106th also looks like a possible flip, with Republican Peter Pettalia continuing to maintaining a financial edge against Democrat Casey Viegelahn. The two remaining open Democratic seats seem to be much safer for their party, with Van Sheltrown in the 103rd District (Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, and Iosco Counties), and Harvey Schmidt in the 57th District (Monroe County) each have an active local party, a financial edge and strong support from the departing Democratic incumbents.

As of October 26, I expect the Republicans to pick up nine seats while the Democrats will likely flip one seat, leaving the Democrats with a 59 to 51 seat edge in the House. On election night I’ll be watching 12 races in Districts 21, 31, 52, 55, 57, 65, 70, 71, 75, 103, 108, and 110.

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