Lansing— Following record campaign spending and the usual amount of mud-slinging, Tuesday’s primary election is expected to decide most of the makeup of Michigan’s 98th Legislature and congressional delegation.
The Nov. 4 general election is the final decider, but it’s a technicality in most state House, state Senate and congressional races.
A least 75 of Michigan’s 110 state House seats and 26 of the 38 state Senate seats are either locks or likely wins for one of the two political parties. It’s due largely to the partisan way in which the district lines were drawn during the last redistricting plan, adopted in 2011, under Republican guidance.
Four open seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan also are likely to be decided Tuesday. Two, from which Reps. Dave Camp of Midland and Mike Rogers of Howell are retiring, represent Republican-majority congressional districts. The other two, from which Democratic Reps. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and John Dingell of Dearborn are departing, are districts that lean toward the Democrats.
“Michigan really does have very few competitive races in the general election, and that is a direct result of our redistricting process that occurs every 10 years,” said Susan Demas, publisher of the political newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. “For the majority of us, our state representative, state senator or member of Congress is selected in August.”
This means a small proportion of the electorate will determine who passes laws and sets the state agenda during the two-year legislative session of 2015-16. In the past seven major primary elections, voter turnout has been as high as 23 percent and as low as 16.7 percent — compared with general election turnout that has been twice to three times as high.
“This is the biggest election of the year, but we’ll be lucky if one out of five voters shows up,” said Bill Ballenger, a former lawmaker and longtime pundit who is Inside Michigan Politics’ associate editor. “It’s just pathetic.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer has a clear shot through to the general election against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, while Peters and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a Republican, also face no primary opponents in their bids to replace U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who’s retiring at the end of the year.
“This is the first year in Michigan’s 180-year history that the governor and U.S. Senate are on the primary ballot with no contested primary in either party,” Ballenger said. “This is going to dampen interest because there is no big-ticket race.”
But the election is sure to set records for candidates’ fundraising, spending and use of their own money, said Michigan Campaign Finance Network director Rich Robinson.
■ State legislative hopefuls have reported taking in $20.3 million in the election cycle, up 16 percent from the same period before the 2010 primary election. House candidates raised $10.6 million, while Senate candidates generated $9.7 million.
■ Independent groups such as Americans for Prosperity ($4.4 million) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have poured $17.9 million into TV issue ads backing candidates they want.
■ Eye-popping self-funding totals include attorney Peter Lucido’s $165,000 toward winning the 36th District state House seat in Macomb County, Saginaw-area Republican Paul Mitchell’s $1.9 million toward the 4th Congressional District Republican race and Birmingham attorney David Trott’s $2.4 million hoping to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Milford in Tuesday’s 11th Congressional District Republican primary.
“It’s really very different world now,” Robinson said. “The level of self-funding is stunning. Lucido already has spent two years of his (state) House salary on his campaign — if he wins” against Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot.
The primary election is the election in part because of legislative district boundaries the majority Republican Party redrew in 2011. It has set up contentious primaries across the state as candidates from both parties face off for a chance to face nominal competition in the November general election.
■In Detroit’s State Senate District 4 Democratic primary, Sen. Bert Johnson of Highland Park is locked in a bitter re-election challenge from state Rep. John Olumba, a former ally who declared himself an independent and worked with Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger for more than a year.
Johnson says Olumba “has sold out to Republican the ranks,” while Olumba replies that “he who casts the first stone is probably getting desperate.”
■A hotly contested Democratic primary in Detroit’s state Senate District 5 has Reps. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights and David Nathan of Detroit trading barbs.
Nathan accused Knezek, who’s white, of going after white voters while hoping three leading African-American contenders will split the black vote in the urban-suburban district. An ex-lawmaker’s nonprofit mailed out literature showing Knezek never missed a House vote while the other three missed hundreds of them.
Former Rep. Shanelle Jackson of Detroit, seeking a comeback, argues the Legislature could use another African-American woman’s voice. And Rep. Thomas Stallworth III of Detroit says the squabbling “doesn’t serve the community, it doesn’t serve the state and I damn sure hope it doesn’t serve any of them.”
■ In Oakland County’s 39th House District, Republican Rep. Klint Kesto of Commerce Township filed a complaint with the county prosecutor and secretary of state accusing challenger Deb O’Hagan of driving around with a sign on her car that implies she is the incumbent.
O’Hagan, a West Bloomfield tea party member, claims Kesto “committed us to billions of taxpayer dollars” by voting in favor of the federally funded Medicaid expansion for Michigan.
John Bebow, president and CEO of the Center for Michigan, a public policy think tank, says all the spending and haranguing poured into Tuesday’s primary likely won’t inspire the majority of eligible voters to show up Tuesday, but will have reverberations that will be felt later.
“Too often, extremist bombast and sound bites win in August,” Bebow said. “And fact-driven, data-driven, future-oriented ideas for how to manage Michigan’s affairs don’t have enough opportunity to gain traction in November.”
Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.