August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Nation's eyes on Michigan this fall

Democrats seek governorship; GOP a U.S. Senate seat

Lansing— The nation’s attention will turn to Michigan this fall as Democrats battle to capture a governorship and three key U.S. House seats, while Republicans try to take a U.S. Senate seat for the first time in 20 years.

National Democrats and unions are targeting the tightening race between Democratic challenger Mark Schauer and Gov. Rick Snyder, while the GOP’s former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land of the Grand Rapids area vies with Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Hills for a rare open Senate seat.

“It’s simple arithmetic: There are way more of us than there are of them,” said U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, at a party unity breakfast Wednesday following his primary victory Tuesday night over the Rev. Horace Sheffield of Detroit.

While Republicans say they are confident Snyder will win re-election, some experts said Democrats seem unlikely to win any of the three Republican-held congressional seats that national Democrats have been targeting for a year, especially after the GOP’s government shutdown last fall.

Any blame of Republicans for the shutdown has evaporated, said Lansing Democratic pundit T.J. Bucholz.

“The good news for politicians is that, for good or bad, the electorate has a short memory,” Bucholz said. “There is rarely a stumble in politics that’s not recoverable ... depending on how close it is to an election.”

Prospects also have improved for Republicans because Congressman Kerry Bentivolio of Milford lost in Tuesday’s GOP primary to well-financed Birmingham attorney David Trott. Trott will be difficult to beat in the Republican-leaning 11th District, said East Lansing GOP strategist Steve Mitchell.

Here’s a look at the November matchups:

■ Trott, a millionaire who specializes in mortgage law and has been attacked as a foreclosure profiteer, swamped Bentivolio by a 2-1 margin, aided by $2.4 million in campaign spending out of his own pocket. He raised another $1 million and outspent Bentivolio by a 20-1 margin.

Democrat Bobby McKenzie of Canton Township, a former U.S. State Department counter-terrorism specialist, is likely to continue hammering away at Trott’s income from mortgages-gone-bad after squeaking out a primary victory over Bloomfield Hills urologist Anil Kumar.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement Wednesday claiming Trott’s “history of profiting from the misery of Michigan families during the foreclosure crisis” will “be a very tough sale for the voters in November.”

But Bill Ballenger, associate editor of Inside Michigan Politics, said the district is heavily enough Republican to make it tough for Democrats to win.

“Trott will have a huge fundraising advantage ... ostensibly unlimited financial resources,” Ballenger added.

■ Bucholz said Democrats might have their best shot in the 7th Congressional District of Jackson and western Washtenaw counties.

Republican Congressman Tim Walberg of Tipton will be challenged by Democratic former State Rep. Pam Byrnes of Chelsea. Bucholz said Byrnes “is very focused on fundraising and is trying to make it a good race.”

In addition, he said, the seat in Congress “has been held by moderates before, has been held by Mark Schauer before.”

But Ballenger noted Walberg retook the seat after being knocked out by Schauer for one term. He’s completing his third U.S. House term.

■ Ballenger argues the Democrats’ best shot may be the sprawling 1st District covering the Upper Peninsula and nearly one-third of the Lower Peninsula — the largest congressional district in continental U.S.

Republican incumbent Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls will face Jerry Cannon of Fife Lake, an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam and then rose to the rank of major general in the Michigan Army National Guard before retiring in 2012. He also was sheriff of Kalkaska County.

“What’s good is Cannon comes from a law enforcement and military background,” Ballenger said. “That resonates with folks in the 1st.”

But he also noted that Benishek has some credentials UP conservatives like — he’s a physician who doesn’t like the federal health care law known as Obamacare.

Mitchell said the national atmosphere, including a Democratic president whose approval rating is hitting historic lows, portends a November election like that of 2010.

“None of the (GOP) incumbents were able to be defeated in 2012, when President Obama won the state by a big margin,” said Mitchell. “It’s still an environment that’s beneficial to Republicans.”