Finley: GOP's last stand, AG and state Senate
Michigan Republicans head into Tuesday's election holding every major state office and control of both chambers of the legislature.
But many GOP leaders are resigned to the probability that all but a shred of that power will be gone when the polls close on Election Day.
In the final hours of this insanely expensive and intensely battled election, Republicans are focusing on the few offices they might be able to save if a feared Democratic rout materializes.
Polls, both public and internal, indicate the big prizes — governor and U.S. Senate — are likely out of reach unless voter sentiment rapidly shifts. Same is true for secretary of state, a post the GOP has held for 24 years.
And while they are still battling fiercely for the state House, they know there's a high risk it, too, could flip to a Democratic majority.
Republicans may talk bravely about how Donald Trump fooled the pollsters in 2016, but few of the ones I've spoken with this week believe their own rhetoric.
"I don't know of any Republicans who don't think it's going to be a throttling statewide," a top GOP elected officeholder told me.
So they're trying to build a firewall to a Democratic sweep of Lansing. The money and energy are flowing into the state Senate and the attorney general's race.
The thinking: With a 27-11 current majority, holding the Senate is the easiest challenge. And Dana Nessel, running for attorney general, is the weakest of the Democratic statewide contenders.
Still, Republicans worry a huge Democratic turnout could put in play even some solidly red Senate districts; in many of the more favorably drawn districts, GOP candidates are polling at under 50 percent, party sources say.
Some seats currently in the GOP column are already being written off as losses, most notably that of incumbent Sen. Margaret O'Brien in Kalamazoo.
The main concentration is on Senate races that fall within the 8th and 11th congressional districts, where enormous Democratic spending is expected to drive turnout.
Republicans are putting more money behind Senate candidates Laura Cox in Livonia, Marty Knollenberg in Troy and Jim Runestad in Waterford. All are competing in reliably Republican districts that have rarely before been in play. The GOP is making TV buys, an unusual tactic for legislative contests.
"There is so much emotion among voters this year," says Cox, who is trying to move from the House to the Senate. "There are no safe seats."
Turnout in the 8th and 11th Districts is expected to be at presidential election levels. With voters most focused on the congressional contests, Republicans have to reach voters that previously weren't on their radar screen.
The challenge is to overcome the broad anti-Trump sentiment in those areas, as well as the urge by some to punish the president by voting against all Republicans.
"You have to make sure voters know who you are as an individual, apart from the party and the president," Cox says.
The GOP crystal ball tells them that with effort they can emerge with 22 to 24 Senate seats, a smaller majority than it has now, but a majority still.
The priority for keeping the attorney general's office, which Republicans have occupied the past 16 years, is driven by a fear of Nessel. Even many Democrats worry she is too far out of the mainstream for Michigan.
A strong third party candidate, left-leaning independent Chris Graveline, may split Democratic votes and give an opening to outgoing House Speaker Tom Leonard.
The importance of the race is evidenced by the appearance on the campaign trail of Gov. Rick Snyder, who's had an uneven relationship with Leonard.
Republicans insist they haven't given up on anything. Traditionally the GOP has a superior ground game on Election Day, and if the races tighten up, that could make the difference.
But the party is hedging its bets by trying to assure that next Wednesday, Republicans are at least still sitting as Senate majority leader and attorney general.
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