July 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Today's Focus

Retirements, motivated GOP voters could change Michigan's delegation

Washington -- Tuesday's primary sets into motion one of the biggest shakeups in Michigan's congressional delegation in years.

"When you think about the state of Michigan's economy and how much we are relying on federal money for support, you understand why the caliber of people picked in the primary and general elections this year is so important," said Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University of Michigan.

The state will send at least three freshmen to replace retiring longtime Reps. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, and Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. Stupak's seat is considered a tossup, meaning Republicans could pick it up in the November elections, while analysts expect the others to remain in Republican control.

Meanwhile, polls signal Rep. Caroline Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, is in serious trouble in the heavily Democratic 13th Congressional District, where Tuesday's results will all but decide whether she'll stay on in Congress. State Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, hopes to benefit from possible voter fatigue over the Kilpatrick family's legal sagas -- incarcerated former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is the congresswoman's son.

Rep. Cheeks Kilpatrick is the state's only member on the House Appropriations Committee, a key panel for earmarked federal money for the state.

Tuesday also will determine the identity of the Republicans who will get a shot at trying to defeat the state's two freshmen representatives -- Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, whose seat is viewed by the Cook Political Report as a "tossup" in the fall, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

The races include a former professional football player (Republican Jay Riemersma, running in the 2nd district); a former Michigan congressman who barely lost in 2008 (Republican Tim Walberg, running in the 7th district); a member of the family who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers football team (Brian Rooney in the 7th district); and a Harvard Law School classmate of President Barack Obama (Democrat Pat Miles in the 3rd district).

"The Republicans have a chance to pick up not just one, not just two, but maybe three seats," said political analyst Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics, a nonpartisan political newsletter.

If that happened, the partisan mix of the state's House delegation would shift from its eight Democrats and seven Republicans to 10 Republicans and five Democrats. A more closely balanced mix can protect the state's interests regardless of which party controls the House.

Heightening the importance of the primary is the likelihood Michigan will lose one -- or even two -- House seats after the 2010 Census.

"It's harmful when you lose seniority," points out former Michigan congressman Dennis Hertel, who was part of Michigan's 1992 political tsunami: Michigan's delegation shrank from 18 to 16 members because of reapportionment. Six incumbents, including Hertel, decided not to run, while another, Guy Vander Jagt, R-Luther, lost in a primary, leaving the state with five freshmen.

dprice@detnews.com">dprice@detnews.com (202) 662-8736