Dems eye shot to retake Michigan House this fall
Lansing — The political pressure for seats in the Michigan House is revving up as the calendar approaches the candidate filing deadline on Tuesday, with some Democrats saying they may have a political edge this year.
While Republican strategists largely contest that opinion, some Democrats even say 2016 could be the best shot they have had to seize back the House from GOP control since 2010, when Republicans scored a landslide 20-seat victory. That was the largest seat swap since 1964.
Many of those 20 seats are now ending under term limits. Presidential races in Michigan tend to favor Democrats, potentially boosting state House candidates’ image if they’re associated with a favorable Democratic candidate. Presidential years also improve voter turnout, and some political strategists say many moderate Republican women are frightened of businessman Donald Trump, the current GOP front runner.
Add to that the chance for Democrats to leverage the Flint water crisis and the decaying, cash-strapped Detroit Public Schools, and the House race appears to be competitive.
Democrats are vying for nine seats — the number they’d need to gain for a House majority. Eight would tie them with Republicans. If the Democrats can’t win this election and the next in two years, they’ll have a slim chance of being in power to help redraw political district lines in 2021, said TJ Bucholz, a Democrat and president of public relations firm Vanguard Public Affairs.
“The next two cycles are important in the House,” Bucholz said. “To make sure they have a grip on redistricting, they need to be successful in both cycles.”
If they don’t, Republicans may control the House for the next 10 years.
Adrian Hemond, who works with the bipartisan political advocacy firm, Grassroots Midwest, said this year is crucial for Democrats.
“This is one of their last two best shots before they get another decade of largely Republican control,” Hemond said. “That doesn’t’ mean it’s impossible. But things are much more difficult if they control none of the levers of power going into redistricting going into 2021.”
Bucholz and Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said they think 2016 is their best shot at winning back the House since 2010.
“Everything is lined up for us in 2016,” said Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, a campaign chairman for House Democrats. “We’ve got a new presidential year, we’ve got a Republican brand at the national level that is, quite frankly, pretty scary to a lot of women, to a lot of immigrants.”
The Michigan House Democratic Fund — Democrats’ main campaign funding arm — reported raising $1,040,580 in 2016, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The next reporting deadline is April 26, when those figures will be updated.
Meanwhile, Republicans have raised nearly $1.8 million this year.
“I don’t know if the Democrats necessarily have an edge,” said Stu Sander, a Republican political consultant. “I wouldn’t see that. I think the Republicans are in a pretty good position to keep a majority.”
Republican Rep. Aric Nesbitt, chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, said he thinks Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity, cutting government spending, reinvesting in roads and law enforcement, and the GOP penchant for making “tough decisions” will win votes. The state’s unemployment rate also fell 1 percentage point since March 2015 and Michigan gained about 450,000 jobs since December 2010, which Republicans could tout.
On the Democrats’ shot, Nesbitt said, “I think if you talk to serious people around town, around Lansing, it’s a very slim chance to none.”
John Truscott, a former GOP state delegate who now has the public relations firm Truscott Rossman, was a little more charitable of Democrats’ chances, but said he still thinks they are slim.
“They have a shot — I wouldn’t call it a good shot,” he said. “It’s extremely expensive to be competitive in some of those seats. But lighting does strike every once in a while, I just don’t see how they could do it.”