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16 Days to Election Day: Michigan

Mitt Romney originally believed he had a chance in this state, but this writer just does not see it. The Obama message regarding the auto industry bailout- whether correct or not (this writer thinks not)- has resonated somewhat. The auto industry and the unions in Michigan still hold tremendous sway in the state. And despite the fact that Romney’s father was the Republican Governor here years ago, that “favorite son” propensity has more than worn off. That being said, Obama won here in 2008 with over 57% of the vote, but he will be hard-pressed to come anywhere near that total this year with 53% looking more realistic. Still, look for Obama to take Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.

In the Senate race, Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow is up for reelection against former GOP representative Pete Hoekstra. Stabenow has tried positioned herself as a Democratic moderate. Although she voted for the Obama stimulus, she also voted against TARP. Whatever the case, she enjoys a 5-1 advantage in fundraising over Hoekstra who had to face a challenge in his primary against Detroit area education reformist Clark Durant. Pete Hoekstra’s campaign in the primary was focused on raising money and more grassroots efforts- two items he claims cost him the GOP nod in the Republican gubernatorial primary which he lost to eventual winner Rick Snyder in 2010. Unfortunately for Hoekstra, his campaign will best be noted for its commercial using a Chinese person to attack Stabenow for trade policies that support the Chinese. It was portrayed- right or wrong- as being a racist commercial and several GOP leaders distanced themselves from it and him.

In retrospect, Durant may have been a better candidate despite this being his initial foray into politics. He could have portrayed Stabenow as a Washington insider and beholden to Obama. True, Hoekstra is trying just that strategy and message, but having served so many terms in the House, Hoekstra is not exactly an outsider in the strictest sense of the term. Also, education is a big issue in Michigan as the workforce changes and the US must become more competitive in education. This extends to the very well respected Michigan state college system and some of Durant’s reforms may have taken hold among college-age voters. Regardless, it looks as if Stabenow is headed back to the Senate for another 6 years. Most of that is not due to a tremendous like for Stabenow, but more a dislike of Hoekstra compounded by his own miscues. Additionally, Scotty Boman, the Libertarian candidate, is pulling 7% of the vote according to some recent polls. This would qualify him for debate participation which may be a reason Hoekstra and Stabenow cannot agree on a debate schedule with time running out. A strong Libertarian run would likely hurt Hoekstra more than it would hurt Stabenow.

The current House delegation in Michigan favors Republicans, 9-6. However, the state lost a seat in the House as a result of the census causing a redrawing of boundaries for the congressional districts. Probably the two districts that Democrats had targeted to flip in 2012- the First and the Eleventh- were strengthened in favor of Republicans when the final map was released. The 1st District, which includes the entire Northern Peninsula and the upper part of the southern peninsula will feature a 2010 rematch between current GOP incumbent Dan Beinischek and Democrat Gary McDowell. Benischek won this district in 2010 after Bart Stupak decided to step down rather than face a tough primary challenge in 2010. Stupak, one may remember, was a key figure in the Obamacare debate who seemed to compromise his principles over abortion in favor of the final draft of that law. That same chain of events will cost Ben Nelson a seat in the Senate through retirement this year just as it cost Stupak in 2010. Mainly, Republican territory around Traverse City was drawn into this district. However, since being elected, Benischek has had a tendency to vote with the GOP leadership in the House drawing the ire of some Tea Party groups in the state and nationally. Still, it would appear that Benischek, mainly because of redistricting, will win another term in the House. The 2nd District is so Republican that the Democrats are sitting this one out.

Justin Amash in the 3rd District, which encompasses mainly Kent and Calhoun counties, appears safe against his Democratic challenger, state representative Steve Pestka who has a clear moderate record. Amash is more a libertarian Republican in the mold of Ron Paul. Thus far, Pestka has kept pace in fundraising and Democrats think they have the opportunity here to take this district. It would be a serious long shot, but this race should be watched.

Dale Kildee is finally retiring from the 5th District and the heir apparent is his nephew, a Genessee county official, Dan Kildee. This is heavy Democratic territory around Saginaw. His opponent will be former moderate Democrat-turned-Republican Jim Slezak. Probably the most interesting race and political news out of Michigan will involve the 11th District.

In redistricting, most of the Democratic suburbs of Detroit in Wayne county were removed from this district to enhance the chances of GOP incumbent Thaddeus McCotter winning reelection. In this day and age, one cannot imagine what McCotter was thinking, but he failed to obtain enough signatures on a petition to get on the ballot. He briefly contemplated a write-in campaign but quickly dismissed the idea. Instead, this is now an open seat race for a GOP slot and opportunity for the Democrats to pick up a seat. They will run Syed Taj, a medical doctor with no political experience. His opponent will be a relative unknown in the form of Kerry Bentivolio who was on the Republican primary ballot before the McCotter fiasco. That caused some dissension in the GOP establishment in Michigan which was only made worse when some within that GOP leadership supported the primary write-in campaign of former state senator Nancy Cassis. Bentivolio framed it as an insult to the backing of the Tea Party in their effort to get him on the ballot. Unfortunately, Taj has been the beneficiary of the dissension and confusion among the GOP in this district. Taj’s fundraising is certainly better than that of Bentivolio. Although most pundits have this race in the GOP column, this writer thinks otherwise. If Taj can portray himself as enough of a moderate, then he can prevail in a close race in this Republican leaning district. Just looking at it from the worst case scenario, I would actually give the race to the Democrat.

In the remainder of the House races, all incumbents should be reelected. That includes John Conyers, the Democratic incumbent in the 13th, even though his wife was sentenced to jail for accepting bribes as a member of the Detroit City Council.

There are six questions on the Michigan ballot, five of which are of interest. The Emergency Manager question would allow an enacted law to go into effect. This law spells out the criteria for a state manager to take over financially distressed municipalities and school districts and place them under state control. A second question would place a mandate on Michigan energy providers to increase their renewable portfolio to 25% from its current 10%. As Governor Snyder has correctly noted, the state has a mandate of 10% renewable energy in their portfolio by 2015 and that is proving difficult to meet. Additionally, this mandate would become a constitutional mandate if enacted, and do you really want state energy policy dictated in a state constitution? Proponents of the measure are talking the Obama line regarding renewable energy by stating it would create 40,000 jobs and attract $10 billion in investment. The problem, as many studies clearly indicate, is that although 40,000 “green jobs” may be created, it is likely to cost the workforce 60,000 jobs in other areas. And as for that $10 billion in investment, that will come at considerable cost to the state, or on the backs of utility users.

Two measures seek to expand union rights. The first would grant limited collective bargaining rights to home health care providers and place it in the constitution. The second would create a constitutional right to collectively bargain and wipe away existing and future laws regarding the right to collectively bargain, or what can be included in such contracts. Obviously, the primary push behind this bill is the AFL-CIO, UAW, and SEIU. Thankfully, there is the example of Wisconsin slightly to the west, a model that should be implemented nationally. Also, polls show that less than 50% of voters approve of these measures despite the continued strength of the UAW and other unions in Michigan. While labor unions in Michigan are trying to constitutionalize worker rights, they are running counter to national trends against unions.

The final question would require a two-thirds vote to approve any tax increase at any level of government. This is similar to questions in other states.

In conclusion: Obama takes Michigan’s 16 electoral votes with about 53% of the vote. Debbie Stabenow will be reelected to the Senate. Simply looking at it from a worst case scenario for the GOP, I am looking at the close loss of the 11th District and a 8-6 advantage nevertheless for the GOP in the House delegation. If I am wrong, all the better and its a 9-5 advantage.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads in the electoral vote count 201-159. The Senate is now tied 35-35 after 35 states. In the House, Republicans hold a 7 seat advantage at this point, 148-139 seats.

Next: New Mexico

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