Stupak Adds To Dems' MI Problems

April 13, 2010

Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D) retirement gives Dems a major headache in holding the northern MI seat. But it’s far from the party’s only problem in the Wolverine state. In fact, 3 of the state’s 8 Dem seats are now in some danger of falling toward GOPers.

But it’s Stupak’s seat — with a Cook PVI rating of R+3 — that’s in the most immediate danger of falling.

Dems say the holding the seat is not insurmountable, and indeed it isn’t. While Stupak has never taken less than 57% in any of his re-election bids, he’s hardly the only Dem to find success in the socially conservative CD. Pres. Obama won it by a slim margin in ’08, and the overwhelming majority of state legislators that represent parts of the CD are Dems.

That means there’s a plethora of solid contenders at the party’s disposal. Some believe a pro-life Dem like Stupak would give them their best shot at holding the seat. In that vein, state Rep. Mike Lahti (D) got a mention from Stupak today when he was asked who could hold the seat. Dems in MI suggest state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) would fit the Stupak mold as well.

But one DC Dem said a potential candidate’s position on abortion wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. And the pro-choice crowd that was angered over Stupak’s involvement in adding pro-life provisions to the health care bill have already found their candidate: ex-Charlevoix Co. Commis. Connie Saltonstall (D). But her bid doesn’t seem to be getting much respect, as Dems are shopping for alternatives that, while they may still be pro-choice, have at least got a base in the CD. If they go this route, state Sen. Mike Prusi (D) would fit that role.

GOPers aren’t entirely set with their field, either. Physician Dan Benishek’s (D) campaign went from 0-60 after Stupak switched from a “no” to “yes” on health care, and his camp claims he’s raised nearly $200K since then. But Stupak’s retirement has caused state House Min. Leader Kevin Elsenheimer (R) to consider the race. He said in a statement yesterday he’s taking a “serious look” a bid, and will announce his decision in the next couple of days.

But despite some of their built-in advantages, many MI Dems don’t sound optimistic at all about their chances. They’ve got reason to feel that way.

When the wind is blowing against a party — as it is nationally against Dems — it’s difficult for that party to hold seats that tilt toward the opponent’s party. In ’06 and ’08, GOPers went 0-6 in protecting open seats in CDs with a “D+” Cook designation. In fact, Dem challengers won with an average of 56% in those seats. Even in seats where GOPers recruited solid candidates, they fell flat because the landscape was tilted too much against them.

Meanwhile, to add insult to injury to MI Dems, ex-Rep. Knollenberg CoS Paul Welday (R) released a poll, conducted for his campaign, showing him in a virtual dead heat with freshmen Rep. Gary Peters (D). In the survey, Peters led by a slim 44-43% margin. Furthermore, in the 3/31-4/1 poll, conducted by Mitchell Research & Communications among 300 LVs, GOPers led Dems on the generic Congressional ballot.

This seat has been way off the radar this cycle, mostly because Pres. Obama took this suburban Detroit seat with 56%, and Peters rode that wave to defeat popular Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R) by 9%, despite being outspent nearly 2-1.

But Peters has voted for cap-and-trade and the health care bill, giving GOPers some lines of attack in this historically GOP seat. The problem for the GOP is that none of its candidates in the contest have raised nearly enough money to compete with Peters, who had $1.3M in the bank at the end of the year. Businessman Gene Goodman (R) has put $250K of his own cash into the race, but all of the candidates will need to ramp things up if they are to compete with Peters in Nov.

Still, if Welday’s poll numbers correctly represent the current mood of the CD, Peters is in trouble and will have a tough fight on his hands.

And GOPers are also feeling confident in another seat the party lost in ’08. Rep. Mark Schauer (D) is a likeable and skilled campaigner, as well as a strong fundraiser, but an early Jan. poll conducted by ex-Rep. Tim Walberg (R) — whom Schauer defeated in ’08 — showed the incumbent trailing the GOPer by a 50-40% score.

And that was before Schauer’s vote for the health care bill. Schauer has traveled the CD since that vote, facing constituents head-on in seven town halls, and has been met with a rocky reception in some of them. While the CD has trended Dem in recent years, it’s certainly not a safe seat. And any GOP opponent will also be able to attack him for his vote on cap-and-trade.

But while Walberg polls well in a general, he first faces a competitive primary against atty Brian Rooney (R), who is FL Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R) brother. Many believe Walberg is damaged goods, and once the campaign kicks into gear, he will be the worst possible nominee against the savvy Schauer. Still, he has a following among social conservatives, and shouldn’t be discounted in a primary.

But whoever GOPers nominate, Schauer is not on safe ground in this economically troubled — and GOP-leaning — CD.

If GOPers can capitalize on their three House opportunities in MI, they’ll take a 10-5 lead in the delegation. And, combined with their better-than-even-money shot at the Governor’s mansion, ’10 may be the year the GOP reclaims its hold on the Wolverine state.

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