Do Democrats have a chance to finally regain control of the state Senate this coming Nov. 8 after a four-decade hiatus?
Sure they do. In fact, they should have gotten control — 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.
But Senator Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), head of the Senate GOP’s campaign operation, was quoted in MIRS newsletter last month to the effect that, while base numbers can play a role in the results, other factors like the nation’s political environment, campaign cash, the issues, and the candidates themselves can play a larger role.
“You have a president (Joe Biden) with a 40% approval rating. You have top issues like inflation (the highest in 40 years), the economy, the supply chain delays, rising interest rates, a failure at the federal level with huge deficits, the open Southern border, the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle,” said Nesbitt. “If you mix that with a governor who knows she is in trouble due to her lockdowns, school closures and economic suppression, you’re going to see independent voters who will switch back hard to the Republicans.”
How is base party strength calculated, anyway? Most bean-counters consider the four education boards on the statewide ballot to be the most nearly foolproof yardstick for calculating a political party’s base in a given election, because they’re so far down on the bedsheet that a voter is likely to fall back on his or her fundamental partisan leanings in deciding whom to support. But the results of ed board races also can be influenced by other factors, such as name ID, the year in which the election occurs, national considerations, and candidates for other offices on the ticket. The figures below attempt to reflect that.
Below is a rundown in ranked order — never before published — 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
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 Democrats — Bullock II, Detroit/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 (or Democratic incumbent Betty Jean Alexander, Detroit)* (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 (7 Counties + part of Chippewa Co. in Northern LP/Eastern U.P. enclave) (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: Incumbent Republican — LaSata, St. Joseph (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 — Outman, Six Lakes (Democratic Base: 35.1%)
* As of this date, incumbent B.J. Alexander has been denied ballot access by the Board of State Canvassers because of campaign finance violations, pending an appeal. If she is not on the Aug. 2 primary ballot, the seat will be OPEN.