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Dems, GOP duel for competitive Macomb House seat

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Macomb County is one of Michigan’s battlegrounds as Democrats try to flip Republican state House seats in Nov. 8’s elections in a bid to regain control of the lower chamber.

Democrats are intent on winning the competitive District 30 seat, which encompasses Sterling Heights, Utica and Shelby Township. Two candidates with well-known names are battling in an area where Democrats have traditionally had appeal but where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has had a strong base in the primaries and the general election campaign.

Democrat Michael Notte, the son of late Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte, is running against mortgage auditor Diana Farrington, who is the wife of the district’s term-limited Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica.

The race is one of five of the most important open seats for Democrats, said Brian Began, a Republican political strategist with Lansing-based Grassroots Midwest.

“It is pretty critical for them because if they can’t win that seat, it kind of makes their prospects of winning more competitive seats that much tougher,” said Began, adding that whoever prevails is likely to hold the seat for more than one two-year term.

Diana Farrington, the Utica Republican who won her party’s August primary by 54 votes, said her top priority is “bringing jobs back into the state” by fighting to eliminate “taxes that are unneeded” and enticing companies to move to Michigan with tax deals that she said are “good for everybody.”

Notte of Shelby Township is emphasizing “tax fairness,” which means that “those at the top should be paying their fair share.”

“I want to be a voice for working class people,” he said. “We need change in Lansing. I want to work on improving education … creating an economy that is more fair, ending tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas.”

Where candidates stand

While Trump has been popular in Macomb County with his condemnation of interest groups and trade deals, his impact in the state House race is uncertain.

Farrington wouldn’t say whether she will vote for the New York businessman, but said she won’t be voting for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

“I believe my vote is my personal choice,” she said. “Everybody goes in and votes, and it’s their personal choice to make.”

Farrington said she’s not sure how Trump’s candidacy will affect her own campaign and maintains that voters haven’t asked her about her presidential preference.

“The campaign is going great ... We are working extremely hard. I don’t know if he’s working as hard,” Farrington said of her opponent. “I’m out there walking every day, knocking doors.”

But state Rep. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor, who directs campaign strategy for House Democrats, said Trump will end up hurting down-ballot Republicans because voters will associate the party’s presidential nominee with other party members.

“I think those people are probably … pretty upset with Trump and his disgusting comments, and further, his disgusting actions that are potentially illegal when it comes to sexual assault,” Zemke said of typical Republicans, referring to allegations by 10 women of sexual misconduct by Trump.

Farrington has said she’ll fight to make college more affordable by trying to ensure tuition rates do not grow above the rate of inflation. Her campaign website also lists increased funding to fight the prescription opioid epidemic and the underground market for human trafficking as other high priorities.

Notte said he has knocked on 30,000 doors and talks with district voters every day.

“My name ID is off the charts,” Notte said. “My father was well-loved. His legacy was known in Utica and Shelby as well. People always have stories about him and how he helped them. Constituents trust that I will do the same, like my father did.

He slammed the Legislature’s cutting of more than $1 billion in corporate taxes coupled with cuts to education funding in 2011 when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder first took office. The administration has since increased school aid as the economy has improved.

“A lot of people don’t forget that. When I’m at their doors, I’m hearing that,” he said.

Campaign funding

Farrington has raised more money than Notte — more than $75,000 through the end of August compared with Notte’s $45,364, according to the latest campaign finance reports. The next report is due by Oct. 28.

The fund-raising could give Farrington an edge in a heated race.

The race is a choice between a liberal who is a “danger to our Second Amendment rights” and a “common-sense, pro-job creator” who will fight hard for taxpayers, said state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Nesbitt, a Lawton Republican, said Notte refused to fill out a questionnaire from the National Rifle Association and is backed by “the liberal special interest groups and the Democratic Party bosses in Lansing” who will “pour money” into the campaign for Notte.

But the seat is very much in play, Zemke said.

Farrington’s association with her husband, the district’s current representative, didn’t “work out very well for her in the primary,” he said. “She only won the primary by 54 votes.”

District 33 race

In another Macomb race, political strategist said Republican Jeff Yaroch is favored over Democrat Yani Warda in the GOP-leaning 33rd state House district, a seat held by term-limited Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township.

Yaroch raised $77,707 through the end of August compared with Warda’s 5,272.

Warda said most of the money he raised has come from his own pocket. The state party hasn’t funded his campaign because of the heavy Republican base in the area, said Warda, who owns Stellar’s and Co. Inc., a janitorial service in Macomb Township.

“It’s a low budget campaign, but I’m putting up a big fight,” Warda said, a pro-life Democrat who is a National Rifle Association member and member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. He said his biggest priority is securing more aid for Michigan veterans.

Yaroch said his experience as a firefighter and Richmond City Council member make him more qualified to be a state representative.

“I think it comes down to experience,” Yaroch said. “I have 17 years on the Richmond City Council. I’ve helped cut taxes 27 percent, budgeted for roads without taking on debt. I’ve worked on education issues. I’ve helped ensure clean water in Richmond.

“I have 26 years as a firefighter, on a daily basis being a problem solver,” he said. “I cut my teeth at the local level. And I learned a lot about solving issues.”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com