Democrats in Michigan seek to flip state House in 2018
Lansing – As midterm elections draw national attention to Michigan, some wonder if the battleground state that helped put Donald Trump in the Oval Office two years ago will continue its Republican-trifecta streak.
Michigan’s state government has been single-party for the last eight years, with Republicans controlling the governor’s seat, state Senate and state House. Democrats hope 2018 will be the year that trifecta shatters.
From the Upper Peninsula to southeast Michigan, Democrats are trying to flip the 63-47 GOP majority in the state House and pierce the state Senate’s 27-11 supermajority. Their reasons for optimism include an open governor’s seat to spur turnout, a purported “blue wave” of liberal enthusiasm, a political trend of the minority party enjoying a bump in midterm years and a number of term-limited Republicans leaving office – 11 in the state House and 19 in the Senate.
Democratic candidates are mostly sticking to kitchen-table issues and attacking Republicans for bad roads, declining school performance and ongoing environmental public health scares ever since the lead contamination in Flint’s water supply.
But the GOP’s much heftier war chest coupled with a largely positive economic bounce-back under Gov. Rick Snyder means that Democrats have their work cut out for them. The Republicans will remind voters of the Michigan turnaround from where it was a decade ago during the Great Recession. Democrats have also historically been worse at voter turnout and saw many stronghold voters for Barack Obama stay home in 2016.
Lastly, these races are extra consequential because in Michigan, state lawmakers are in charge of outlining boundaries once a decade for both congressional and legislative districts. Michigan’s GOP-drawn map heavily boosted Republicans two years ago.
Democrats need to flip nine seats to take the House. That’s a doable, but uphill, climb.
The Democrats are wielding a slate of candidates tailored to each district, emphasizing their strategy of staying local. That’s because while the supposed blue wave’s Trump backlash has emerged special election success stories in other states this past year – including dozens of red-to-blue flips in legislative seats – the minority party is wary of overestimating that energy.
The Detroit-area suburbs may be fertile ground to reverse trends because GOP representatives in the 39th, 40th and 41st districts are leaving office due to term limits. These areas are all moderate-leaning neighborhoods in Oakland County where neither Trump nor the sitting representative did particularly well in 2016.
Districts where Democrats plot to overthrow a GOP incumbent include the 17th in Monroe County, the 20th in Wayne County and the 61st near Kalamazoo, where all three sitting representatives barely held their seats in 2016.
Elsewhere, the 62nd, 108th and 71st are also contenders for flipping. But Democrats, too, are losing incumbents this year, some of whom are in Trump-friendly areas such as the Upper Peninsula and Macomb County.
The Democrats must pick up nine seats in the much-smaller state Senate as well to flip it. Most experts say that isn’t going to happen.
But what is possible is breaking the supermajority. That requires taking three more seats. And if Democrats get even more, they could potentially take the chamber back in 2022. The state Senate has been GOP-controlled since 1983, and Democrats haven’t gained a new seat since 2006.
One thing both parties have is a slew of candidates with storied experience navigating Lansing. In the western Upper Peninsula, Democratic state Rep. Scott Dianda of Calumet has made his mark helping residents out during the recent flooding and could go against former GOP state Rep. Ed McBroom from Vulcan in his bid for the 38th district.
State Rep. Winnie Brinks, a Grand Rapids Democrat, is challenging state Rep. Chris Afendoulis, a Republican from Grand Rapids Township, in the 29th district as it grapples with reports of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS in the tap water nearby. In mid-Michigan’s 24th district, Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a businesswoman and former aide to Democratic Gov. James Blanchard, is running for outgoing GOP Sen. Rick Jones’ seat. Among her opponents is Potterville Republican state Rep. Tom Barrett.
The even footing in some of these matchups means that ultimately, victory in November could come down to spending and campaign ground game.