Question 1): Democrats in the Michigan Senate, in their efforts to end longtime Republican control of the chamber, have botched what looked like a winning hand before. For example, they should have achieved a majority — or at least a tie — in 2006, which was a huge Democratic year. At least 23 districts (out of the 38 total) were marginally Democratic under a reapportionment plan enacted by a Republican-controlled Legislature and then-Gov. John Engler back in 2001. Yet Republicans wound up again winning control of the chamber, 21-17. Why? Because, between 1990 and 1994, the GOP managed to pick off three seats which had a majority Democratic base, and they held onto them for more than a decade.
It got even worse for the Democrats after that. In 2010, the Democrats seemed to have an 18-12 edge over Republicans, with eight toss-ups, when psephologists calculated “base party strength” in each of the 38 districts. So what happened? Democrats had their worst year in decades, and Republicans expanded their majority by winning 26 seats to the Democrats’ 12. In 2014, with a new map in place also enacted by legislative Republicans and a GOP governor, it got worse still– – a veto-proof 27-11 Republican majority for four years.
Today, the two top Democratic leaders in the Senate are extolling their party’s chances of finally breaking through into the majority thanks to what they consider to be a far more favorable map drawn up this year by the new Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC). For 2022, 10 districts appear to be solidly Democratic, six are likely Democratic and four lean Dem. That’s a total of 20 — in other words, more than half of the chamber’s 38 seats start with a built-in Democratic advantage of more than 50%. A total of seven districts are solidly Republican, eight are likely Republican, and three lean GOP for a total of 18. Only one incumbent Republican (Mike McDonald of Macomb Co.) is running in a majority Democratic district; no sitting Democrats are running in a majority GOP stronghold.
So, that’s a 20-18 D/R split in the final seat count, if all the races conform to the base party strength numbers. Should the results wind up 19-19, remember, a tie means the elected lieutenant governor can break the deadlock to allow one party to organize the chamber, so whoever wins the governorship can be a determining factor.
Do Democrats have a realistic chance to finally regain control of the state Senate this coming Nov. 8 after a four-decade hiatus?
Answer 1): Sure they do. The Democrats should win, at a bare minimum, 16 seats in this year’s election. In fact, in an average political year where no party has a clear advantage, Democrats should win at least 17 of 38 seats. Republicans are all but guaranteed to win 15 seats, but probably 17. While a few other seats could be in play if the political environment tilts to one side or other, four seats will determine if the Michigan Senate goes Democratic or Republican.
The Senate Districts That Will Decide Majority in 2022, ranked by competitiveness:
1. District 12 — Lake St. Clair shoreline from Grosse Pointe Park to Algonac) Nearly 50-50 on paper, but much of this district is in Macomb County, which is trending Republican. The GOP nominee, state Rep. Pamela HORNBERGER (R-Chesterfield Twp.), lost a Senate special election last year in an adjacent/overlapping district, albeit in the primary. The Hertel family name (think John, Dennis and Curtis) is well-known in this area, which will help Rep. Kevin HERTEL (D-St. Clair Shores) shore up his base in part of the fiefdom. Hertel and Hornberger have moved more toward the middle in 2022 based on their voting records. Hornberger is polarizing in the education community, but Democrats are finding themselves out of contention in areas like Harrison Township, which they were able to compete in only a decade ago.
2. District 32 — (Muskegon north to Frankfort) Sen. Jon BUMSTEAD (R-Newaygo) had to move from Newaygo to Muskegon in order to be allowed to serve his current district and run for this new one. He’s won a contested election before, even if his voting history might appear that he’s too conservative for this close to 50/50 district. The Democratic nominee, state Rep. Terry SABO (D-Muskegon), is considered a moderate, but Democrats have failed before to win a Senate seat anchored in Muskegon while containing conservative, more sparsely-populated adjacent counties.
3. District 11 —
(Macomb Township to Detroit) On paper, Democrats should win this 54.7% Dem seat, but in 2018 Sen. Michael D. MACDONALD (R-Sterling Heights) somehow turned a slightly different, marginally Democratic seat into a 4 ½-point win. This year’s Democratic nominee, Macomb County Commissioner Veronica KLINEFELT, almost has to win this district for the Democrats to achieve the majority. Much will depend on how Roseville, Clinton Township, and Fraser voters feel about the top of ticket. Will they turn out, and whom will they favor?
4. District 9 —
(Rochester, Troy, Sterling Heights west of M-53) If former Rep. Mike WEBBER doesn’t win this 52.5% GOP seat, Republicans will be in deep do-do. The Democratic nominee, Rep. Padma KUPPA (D-Troy), is part of a growing Asian population in this area, but she got a bad draw when Sterling Heights and Utica were added to the 9th district. Democrats haven’t done well here in recent legislative races, and Macomb County isn’t known for supporting ethnically diverse candidates.
5. District 35 —
District 35 (Saginaw, Bay City, Midland) Democrats have seen their historic strength in Bay City erode in recent years and, while Bay City Commissioner Kristen McDonald RIVET is considered a quality Democratic nominee, she may be too progressive for Midland and rural Bay County. Republicans have a hard charger nominee in state Rep. Annette Glenn of Midland, and the ad wars in the Tri-Cities are revved up.
6. District 13 —
(Farmington Hills, Northville, Plymouth, Novi) This is basically all new territory for Sen. Rosemary BAYER (D-Beverly Hills), but she’s running in a district with a 58.0% base that is becoming more Democratic with every passing year. Northville Township Treasurer Jason Rhines, the Republican nominee, is no better known in most of the district than Bayer.
7. District 30 —
(Northern Grand Rapids, Ottawa County, Cascade Twp) Democrats are highlighting their nominee, state Rep. David LAGRAND (D-Grand Rapids), but he’s running in a marginally Republican district against an incumbent who served earlier in the state House. LaGrand hopes he’s laid the groundwork if the GOP’s top-of-the-ticket collapses. The Republican nominee who won a special Senate election last year, former Walker Mayor Mark HUIZENGA, is a steady performer who isn’t likely to self-destruct.
Below is a rundown in ranked order of the current base party strength of each of the 38 new state Senate districts as designed by the MICRC. All of these will be contested in the Nov. 8 general election. The table is based on data collected by Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting, Inc., and the Secretary of State’s elections division, and then dissected and reconstituted by The Ballenger Report.
The districts are ranked by the greatest Democratic strength on down to the least Democratic (most Republican) based on the vote for Dem candidates in a blend of races for the state Board of Education, Wayne State University Board of Governors, University of Michigan Board of Regents, and Michigan State University Board of Trustees over a span of four elections — 2014 through 2020. Results in the table are weighted slightly to favor the 2018 and 2020 elections compared with the previous two. Splinter party vote totals in the four elections (about 6.3%) have been thrown out:
Partisan Composition of New Senate Districts, from Most Democratic to Least
Blend of Mean Democratic Educational Boards Vote
Over Four (4) General Elections (2014, ’16, ’18 and ’20)
District 3: Incumbent Democrat — Chang, Detroit (Democratic Base: 76.5%)
District 8: Incumbent Democrat — McMorrow, Royal Oak (Democratic Base: 75.7%)
District 7: Incumbent Democrat — J. Moss, Southfield (Democratic Base: 73.1%)
District 15: Incumbent Democrat — Irwin, Ann Arbor (Democratic Base: 71.8%)
District 2: Incumbent Democrat — S. Santana, Detroit (Democratic Base: 71.5%)
District 1: Incumbent Democrat — E. Geiss (Taylor) (Democratic Base: 69.9%)
District 6: OPEN (North Detroit + Farmington, Redford Twp & parts of F’ton Hills & Livonia) (Democratic Base: 68.6%)
District 10: Incumbent Democrat — P. Wojno, Warren (Democratic Base: 64.9%)
District 27: OPEN (Flint/Genesee Co.) (Democratic Base: 63.4%)
District 5: Incumbent Democrat — Polehanki, Livonia/Canton (Democratic Base: 60.8%)
District 29: Incumbent Democrat — Brinks, Grand Rapids (Democratic Base: 59.2%)
District 13: Incumbent Democrat — Bayer, Beverly Hills (Democratic Base: 58.0%)
District 21: OPEN (Lansing/Eaton County) (Democratic Base: 57.6%)
District 19: Incumbent Democrat — McCann, Kalamazoo (Democratic Base: 56.8%)
District 14: OPEN (Jackson Co. + western Washtenaw, inc. part of Ann Arbor) (Democratic Base: 55.6%)
District 4: OPEN (Downriver Wayne Co.) (Democratic Base: 55.4%)
District 11: Incumbent Republican — McDonald, Sterling Heights (Democratic Base: 54.7%)
District 28: OPEN (NE Ingham Co. + most of Clinton & Shiawassee Counties) (Democratic base: 54.7)
District 35: OPEN (Northern Saginaw Co., most of Bay Co. & SE Midland Co.) (Democratic Base: 52.5%)
District 9: OPEN (Eastern Oakland Co., including Troy, and western Macomb Co., including Sterling Heights) (Democratic Base: 51.2%)
District 12: OPEN (SE Macomb Co. & southern St. Clair Co.) (Democratic Base: 49.8%)
District 30: Incumbent Republican — M. Huizenga, Walker/Kent. Co. (Democratic Base: 49.7%)
District 32: Incumbent Republican — Bumstead, Newaygo (Democratic Base: 48.7%)
District 23: Incumbent Republican — Runestad, White Lake (Democratic Base: 45.4%)
District 38: Incumbent Republican — McBroom, Vulcan/western U.P. (Democratic Base: 44.7%)
District 37: OPEN (6 Counties in Northern LP/Parts of 2 Others in Eastern U.P.) (Democratic Base: 44.6%)
District 26: Incumbent Republican — Daley, Lum (Democratic Base 43.1%)
District 20: Incumbent Republican — Nesbitt, Lawton (Democratic Base 42.2%)
District 22: Incumbent Republican — Theis, Brighton (Democratic Base: 41.4%)
District 18: OPEN (Barry Co. + western Jackson Co. & parts of 4 other counties) (Democratic Base: 40.5%)
District 16: OPEN (Monroe Co. + most of Hillsdale & 2/3 of Branch Counties) (Democratic Base: 40.5%)
District 24: Incumbent Republican — R. Johnson, Holly (Democratic Base: 38.8%)
District 34: OPEN (6 counties + parts of 5 others in NE Lower Peninsula) (Democratic Base: 38.4%)
District 31: Incumbent Republican — Victory, Hudsonville (Democratic Base: 38.2%)
District 17: Republican held — Incumbent K. LaSata defeated in GOP primary (Democratic Base: 38.0%)
District 25: Incumbent Republican — Lauwers, Brockway) (Democratic Base: 36.6%)
District 36: OPEN (14 counties + parts of 2 others in NE Lower Peninsula) (Democratic Base: 35.3%)
District 33: Incumbent Republican — R. Outman, Six Lakes (Democratic Base: 35.1%)
Question 2): Could Cash-Strapped Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Tudor Dixon Use Targeted Internet Ads To Combat Her Spending Deficit?
Finally, two weeks ago, the DeVos-backed Michigan Families United put $400,000 into a TV buy centered in Grand Rapids and Detroit, giving GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor DIXON some signs of life in her impoverished campaign.The money marks the first time anyone has spent anything on Dixon since the primary Meanwhile, the Democratic Governors Association spent $4 million on behalf of incumbent Gov. Gretchen WHITMER in August alone, bashing Dixon relentlessly in the process. Dixon’s first TV buy was too little, too late — the money should have been spent in August.
TV advertising, both network and cable, isn’t Dixon’s only option. With the advent of streaming services, the Republican nominee has other options. Political advertising has come a long way since running an ad during the 6 p.m. local news and reaching everyone. Online streaming services are overtaking other methods like broadcast and cable, and they allow campaigns to craft messages that reach exact demographics and tailor messages to that specific group. Campaign money creates and buys those ads.
Could Dixon make up for her inability to afford high-volume TV advertising by investing heavily in targeted Internet ads?
ANSWER 2): Dixon can’t afford the sheer volume of Internet advertising she needs to make a dent in her cash deficiency to Whitmer. Dixon has been outspent 15-1 by the governor. Dixon came out of her primary with no money to spare, which has put her permanently behind on the advertising stage. Former Gov. John Engler told MIRS newsletter that a candidate should hold off advertising until they have enough money to sustain the campaign and not blip in and out of the space. “In this sense, it reminds me of my own campaign (in 1990, against incumbent Gov. James Blanchard),” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of money -– a lot less money than is being spent now -– so we had to hold off, but when we got started, we stayed on and we won the race.”
Maybe Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow is an even better example of the Engler strategy. Then a U.S. Representative in 2000, Stabenow had been outspent and was running behind in the polls to incumbent Republican Spencer Abraham. But she hoarded whatever cash she could muster until almost the bitter end, then unleashed a barrage of TV ads in the closing two weeks and upset Abraham on election day. “We’ll be running advertisements at the appropriate time,” Dixon has said. If so, she can only hope they’re as effective as Stabenow’s were in 2000, but there is little chance of that because Dixon’s campaign cash deficit is so much greater than Stabenow’s was 22 years go. Engler says the ad buy message for Dixon should be strong on public safety, the economy, and education issues. “I think those are home run issues, because a lot of people remember the shutdowns here (in 2020) and the damage that was done, the loss of small business, deficit learning, and the kids who should have been in schools,” he said.
Another aspect of the ad war debate to ponder: Advertising works best for the person who is not the incumbent, because that candidate, such as Dixon, is essentially a blank slate. That can work the other way around, too, as Whitmer has used Dixon’s low name ID against her with TV ads ‘defining’ Dixon in a decidedly negative way. Bottom line: The idea of advertising isn’t for voters to be presented with a clear-cut picture of what the candidates will or will not do if elected. Nor is it to present the issues spun to the positive or the negative. No, it’s to stamp a candidate with a negative or positive image, which has more staying power with viewers than minutiae. One c0nsolation for Dixon: Because of some very hard negative survey numbers voiced to pollsters by those who don’t like Whitmer, the governor hasn’t been able to clear 50% in support among the broad electorate despite her massive spending, just as Abraham wasn’t in 2000. That could make her ripe for an unpleasant surprise on 11/8 if Dixon can pull a Stabenow or an Engler.
Question 3) Did the Michigan GOP lose its last and best chance to win this year’s gubernatorial election when self-funding multi-millionaire Perry JOHNSON failed to get enough valid signatures to qualify for the Aug. 2 Republican primary ballot?
Answer 3): Probably the only thing that could have rescued Michigan Republicans from their pre-primary filing debacle was if somehow, miraculously, Dixon had been able to win the nomination and picked Perry Johnson as her running mate for Lieutenant Governor. She has the right image, discipline, and gender to combat Whitmer, and Johnson had the cash, if he would have been able to figure out a way to spend it on the Dixon-Johnson ticket, and had been willing to do it. Still, by himself, Johnson was never the panacea for what was, and seemingly still is, ailing the Michigan Republican Party. Some observers, like John Sellek of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs, agrees —“No, Johnson wasn’t the GOP’s last, best chance, because money, message and personality all go hand-in-hand. Just ask Kevin RINKE,” Sellek told MIRS. Besides, even if Johnson had been able to make the ballot, the embarrassment of having his petition signatures challenged meant that the self-described ‘Mr. Quality’ had already made himself irrelevant when he didn’t even quality-check his own petitions. Johnson would have had more money, but he’d still have the wrong message. Johnson presented himself as an election-denying, anti-abortion, anti-vaccine, anti-science extremist. And those views are not going to win over moderate Republicans and independents in Michigan.
John C Stewart says
Can’t thank you enough Bill Ballenger for your analysis RE: BASE PARTY STRENGTH. In Southeast Michigan (Media Market is 5 Million people, 1/2 the population of Michigan) the overwhelming substantive issue is “Reproductive Rights-Prop. 3” and the women’s vote is carrying the day. Local City & Township Clerks are reporting a significant increase in women who are registering to vote. (Kansas approved Prop. 3 by 67%) I’ve said many times “the Republicans handed the Dems a GIFT overturning Roe v. Wade.” Very Unfortunate that the Economy (Inflation) is secondary to all other issues. Republicans will never win another statewide election unless the candidate is somewhat Pro-choice. REPUBLICANS HAVE ONLY WON TWO (2) STATEWIDE ELECTIONS-RICK SNYDER-IN THE LAST 24 YEARS SINCE JOHN ENGLER’S RE-ELECTION OF 1998. But who am I to say, I’m the only Milliken-endorsed State Rep. in the last 42 years.
Jim Conroy says
Bill, in focusing on the cash disparity between the two gubernatorial candidates, you’re ignoring the fact that tudor Dixon is inherently weak, and only has one thing going for her: Betsy DeVos. And that won’t even get her to the 20 yard line — especially since this is a baseball game!
Arthur A Busch says
Good review Bill Ballenger. The question you danced around is how strong the landslide will be for Whitmer if her money buys her a lot of love from the Independent voters. Further, the turnout of those wanting to settle the abortion question on the ballot will largely determine the margin of Whitmer’s victory, in my opinion. I think this will not be a redux of Stabenow or Engler’s surprise victories as Tudor Dixon has no political experience, as did both Stabenow and Engler. So I would bet on a blowout win for Whitmer based on a massive turnout by pro-choice women who are not taking a Trump acolyte for the next dance.