House 2008: Michigan Target-Rich Territory for House Dems

Last week I noted that for all of the successes House Democrats achieved on November 7 -- and there were a lot of them -- the Dems also left a lot of seats on the table. Seventy-one of them, in fact, if you include those in which the Republican won with 55 percent or less of the vote and/or the district leans five points or less to the Republican Party, as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index (PVI). Nearly one-tenth of these districts come from Michigan, a state all-too-overlooked by Democrats in 2006.

No Michigan seat currently held by a Republican has a Democratic lean, though one, CD 9, which seven-term incumbent Republican Joe Knollenberg won with just 51.6 percent of the vote despite outspending his Democratic challenger by more than a 7-to-1 ratio, has a PVI of just R+0. Another, CD 11, which sophomore Rep. Thaddeus McCotter carried with 54.1 percent of the vote while outspending the Democrat in the race by a 6.5-to-1 margin, has a PVI of R+1. District 8, which three-term GOP Rep. Mike Rogers won with just over 55 percent of the vote while outspending his Democratic opponent by a narrower but still overwhelming 2.67-to-1 margin, also stands out with a PVI of R+2.

But the Michigan seat most clearly under the Democrats' gaze this year might be CD 7. Backing up one cycle to the 2004 campaign, the Republican primary went to the somewhat more moderate Joe Schwarz as conservative Republicans, including the son of the retiring incumbent Nick Smith (who Republican leaders attempted to bribe on the House floor with promises to support his literal political heir, but that's a whole other story...), split the field. Once in Congress, Schwarz was almost immediately under conservatives' sites despite proving a fairly reliable vote for his party (he voted with his caucus on party-line votes 84 percent of the time in 2006, for example, according to CQ), and with the backing of the Club for Growth, Tim Walberg was able to unseat Schwarz in the primary.

Yet Walberg was -- and is -- too conservative for his district, which leans about two percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole. Despite outspending his Democratic challenger by more than a 20-to-1 margin, Walberg was not even able to secure a majority of his district's vote on November 7, clocking in at just 49.9 percent of the vote.

As a result of these numbers, House Democrats will no doubt take a long, hard look at trying to unseat the freshman Walberg, a task that might be too difficult (at least relative to other races the Democrats will run across the country). And already, at least one candidate may be lining up to challenge Walberg on the Democratic ticket: former Rep. Joe Schwarz, according to The Hotline's Josh Kraushaar. Looking at Schwarz' voting pattern from his single term in Congress, he wouldn't necessarily be a great fit within the Democratic caucus. As mentioned above, five times out of six he voted with Republicans on party-line votes in 2006. In 2005, Schwarz earned a 0 percent score on the Drum Major Institute's middle class report card, yielding him an "F". And though his composite liberal score for that year, according to National Journal, placed him near the middle of the House with a rating of 47.2 (45 on economic issues, 51 on social, and 45 on foreign policy), he ranked more conservative than all but one Democrat, Mississippi's Gene Taylor. So while Schwarz may, on the surface, seem to some to be a great recruit for the Democrats trying to hold and extend their majority in the U.S. House, he might not in fact be the best candidate to be the party's standard-bearer in the district in 2008 (though I wouldn't necessarily rule him out, either).

Put together, the preponderance of competitive congressional seats in Michigan might lead one to wonder why the Democrats extended relatively so little effort in the state in 2006. But getting beyond questioning the decisions of the past cycle, it is clear from both the numbers and the reality on the ground in the state that the Democrats ought to take a long and hard look at Michigan in 2008, perhaps seriously contesting as many as seven districts in the state alone this cycle.

Tags: Democrats, House 2008, Michigan (all tags)



Re: House 2008: Michigan Target-Rich Territory for

Wow, thank you for putting this together.

I agree that MI-07 and MI-09 were theoretically winnable in 2006 (even without the help of the DCCC), but a combination of factors such as poor candidate recruitment and a lack of state/national interest kept us from performing as well as we should have.  Still, its no use dwelling on that now.

Although 2008 may not be the "wave" year that 2006 was, the groundwork has been laid for significant challenges to both Knollenberg and Walberg.  In MI-09, Nancy Skinner's field and Internet outreach people did an incredible job, and absolutely need to be picked up by the next candidate.  A lot of her old campaign staffers are running for local offices in the area, and should have an even more extensive organization in place by 2008.

Does anyone have any suggestions for the Michigan netroots in terms of attempting to influence candidate recruitment?  I started a related thread on Michigan Liberal, and its definitely something that we need to start thinking about.

by whogotthegravy 2007-01-25 11:35PM | 0 recs
Don't Assume 2008 Won't Be Another Wave

Historically, political realignments come with two consecutive House wave elections.  Already the pressure of the Dem's victory in November, and just a few weeks of governing has thrown the GOP into disarray (yeah, I know, roughly where the Dems have always been).  GOP representatives defected on Pelosi's agenda in droves. GOP senators are abandoning Bush--to varying degrees--on Iraq.  The GOP presidential frontrunners are all out of step with the hardline activist base.

These are all signs that the GOP is going to be deeper in disarry next time than they were in 2006.  Altogether, it's no guarantee of a wave election, of course.  But it's a favorable sign.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-26 07:16AM | 0 recs
Perhaps it's not fair

to judge Rep. Schwarz only from his one-term tenure in the House, as he served under a heavy-handed Republican majority and had a sight in his back from the wingers since he won the primary. He probably voted much mor conservative than he wanted to.  

Furthermore, the voting record of party switchers significantly changes with the switch, just look at Sen. Jeffords or Rep. Alexander. He might not become another Conyers or Kilpatrick, but perhaps another Stupak or at least another (Collin) Peterson...

by micha1976 2007-01-26 01:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps it's not fair

Agreed. He's known in Michigan as a moderate, and I suspect his record would reflect that better when he's not under the iron fist of the GOP leadership. He is pro-stem cell and pro-choice, as well as reasonably pro-environment.

by lpackard 2007-01-26 06:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps it's not fair

Agreed. Some of us local politicos discussed a campaign to get him to switch after he was elected in 04. Pity we didn't try harder, then.

I've talked to some other Dems, one of whom will run if Schwarz doesn't. But if Schwarz runs, consensus is he wins the primary and general. The biggest problem is Schwarz is apparently putting off a decision until May, and some of the other Dems would like to get started if they're going to run.

by emptywheel 2007-01-26 08:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps it's not fair

Michigan has pro life Democrats in the delegation besides stupak. John Dingell. plus former House members who were redistricted out of office such as Barcia and Bonior

by CMBurns 2007-01-26 10:54AM | 0 recs

    Dr Schwarz is a moderate Republican sort of like Snowe or Collins. In 2000 he was John McCain's campaign manager for the Michigan primary. He has also bashed Dems for being controlled by the "radical coastal elites" . On the positive side, he opposed Bush's tax cuts, supports fetal stem cell research and is open to major health care changes (unlike Frist, he still practices medicine). There are some possibilities here. I'd prefer a real democrat, but maybe that district is just not ready for a true progressive.  

by MarvToler 2007-01-26 04:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Schwarz

Having lived in the 7th, I think they would go for a progressive candidate, but s/he must be a viable candidate.  From my friends who still live in the district, I have heard that our 06 candidate was not viable and obviously from the fundraising numbers here could not raise money.

by schwompa 2007-01-26 04:30AM | 0 recs
Michigan Auto economy woes

Given the auto industry problems, MI and OH should both be targets.  We have already seen IN flip because the auto parts suppliers were the first to get hit.  Donnely took out Chocola in IN in part because of problems at parts mfg, Delphi.  With Ford and GM cutting back and production moving to Toyota and Honda plants further south, MI should be ripe for a heavy dose of economic populism.  There is still the "Detroit Vs not-Detroit" issue but pocketbook issues should play well in MI.

by bakho 2007-01-26 04:16AM | 0 recs
It's all well and good ...

but where will we get the money from? .. Maybe I am wrong about this but we seem to have the opportunity to pick up a lot more seats in the House .. but it obviously costs money . we can seriously put a stake through the Repuglican party for the long term .. but I want to know how CVH will raise the money for that .. Don't get me wrong ... I hope he does it and we kick their ass .. it's almost like an embarassment of riches .. all the seats we could gain .. with good candidates .. and some more money

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-01-26 04:45AM | 0 recs
Live in MI-08, MI-09,-11-07 all ripe

I helped Jim up here in Oxford.  Rodgers, Knollenburg and McCotter had to spend millions, Millions to hold their seats.  They were anchors!!  That's money that didn't go to OH or IN or elsewhere to save GOP seats.

If Skinner had another $200k she could ahve certainly knocked Knollenburg out.  I personally pleaded with her and her team to make Iraq the #1 issue.  I WALKED BEDROCK GOP HOUSEHOLDS IN TROY DURING MY LUNCH HOUR FOR HER CAMPAIGN.  From democratic/independent households the #1 issue was/is Iraq.  For republican households it was, get this, social security and education, they wanted to avoid talking about Iraq at all costs.  And when I asked about Iraq, well I think saving social security is more important.  Republicans telling me social security is important, righhht.  What they did tell me is that they knew Iraq was a mess and they didn't want it tarring their GOP congressmen.  I went back to Skinner's HQ and detailed my conversations and Nancy did a good job of talking about Iraq.  However, she created an ad w/ Robert Kennedy about climate change and transforming the auto industry.  Noble but I couldn't get her to see the forest for the trees.  Ride Iraq into the congressional seat then work with the Big 3 on transforming the auto industry.  Besides, she'd have to go through Dingell anyway.  She was great but maybe, let's say, too idealistic which was great.  Anyway, with the limited resources she had she did a fantastic job and just fell short of beating Knollenburg.  
Jim, up in my district also ran a great campaign and cut deeply into Rodgers previous margin.  The 11th and 7th data also show how ripe these districts are for democrats and they should all be targeted in the next cycle.  
I'm going to be a party leader up here in Oxford to continue to grow the base.  Oxford only thinks it's conservative.  

by gasperc 2007-01-26 04:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Live in MI-08, MI-09,-11-07 all ripe

I can't emphasize enough how vulnerable MI-9 is.  This district has been trending bluer and bluer over the years, largely as a result of immigration from Detroit and the other communities to the south.  And Oakland County Republicans are fiscal conservatives who hate, hate, hate the new breed of wingnuts.

There is a LOT of money in this district and there is no excuse for not having a well-funded candidate.

by Steve M 2007-01-26 07:13AM | 0 recs
Re: House 2008: Michigan Target-Rich Territory for

Jonathan: Great job as usual. I dissent from your use of the 55% or less victory  in defining a seat as competitive. Someone that's close to a 10% differential is an extremely hard candidate to knock off. My suggestion would be to bring it down to the 52 or 53% of the vote.

Another point: We keep skirting around the issue of campaign contributions, which leans heavily in favor of Republicans. This is so because those with obscene amounts of money in society - corporations & the wealthy - skew their contributions toward the party of the economic elite, the Republican Party. It also makes Democratic candidates fearful of directly taking on economic issues as it means that large amounts of money will flow to their opponent.

At the top of the Democratic Party agenda should be a push to sharply reduce campaign contributions. Without it, progressives are at a deep disadvantage.

by carter1 2007-01-26 06:38AM | 0 recs
55% threshold is lame
once you target a specific number like <55% you just told the GOP it's a target, they know it and they'll arm themselves to the teeth in terms of money.  Knollenburg was bled dry in 2006, and she was outspent like 5 to 1.  
Carter1 makes and excellant point of targeting to BRING DOWN the GOP's margin in certain districts.   There are votes to mine in many, many districts throughout the country.  A proper analysis would show that in districts where the GOP won by 55-60% has a dormant democratic voting block.  These districts could serve as anchors to lock democratic wins elsewhere.  Spending as little as $50k say in one of the districts would force the GOP to spend millions.  Millions that can't get diverted elsewhere.  And in some cases, like happened to our advantage in 2006, we'll win some of these "longshots" because the districts were never really that strong of a GOP district in the first place.  That's the essence, to me, of the 50 state strategy.
Knollenburg is especially vunerable, he's out of touch, old and was bled dry in '06.  The GOP knows this whether they drop millions to hold it is unclear.  I would be surprised if millions get dumped by both sides to battle over this district.
by gasperc 2007-01-27 03:20AM | 0 recs
Re: House 2008: Michigan Target-Rich Territory for

Yeah, I think a lot of resources were spent on making sure we held the Gov slot.  Recall that Granholm was considered the most endangered Dem nationwide for much of the election season.

I really hope Granholm spends the next two years being a little more partisan and explaining to people just how the Republicans in the state legislature are holding back her economic agenda, because the problems in Michigan are not going to fix themselves.

by Steve M 2007-01-26 07:16AM | 0 recs
Re: House 2008: Michigan Target-Rich Territory for

True Adam.  

I live in Michigan and that was a big problem, however, everyone knew that was going to be an issue for two years.  What Granholm and the rest of the party should have been doing is running against the Republican dominated state legislature.  They blocked almost all of her initiatives.  They have been in control for almost the entire past 20 years, and look at the job they've done.  

Granholm shold have been on the offensive from the start, campaigning against Republican incompetence on the state level.  

As it turned out, we won back the house, which nobody predicted.  However, we could not win back the Senate, losing a bunch of seats by a nose.  Very very frustrating. We lost two seats by less than a thousand, with Green candidates probably determining the outcome.  

If we would have won the Senate, there would have been a major push for mid-decade redistricting.  Now, would have Granholm actually shown some courage and followed through with it, that's anyone's guess.  But it doesn't matter.  As it stands now, we have some seriously gerrymandered districts and we need to really work hard to take some of these guess out.  In particular Walberg and Knollenberg.  

by Eric11 2007-01-26 07:20AM | 0 recs
Wasn't that Carvile's argument?

That we left dozens of seats on the table? He was ripped for it on the netroots since hero Howard Dean was the focus of Carville's wrath, but here we are months later basically agreeing with Carville. I agreed at the time.

I certainly didn't expect us to net +30 but given the national House margin there's no doubt the gains should have been greater. Much greater. In sports it's simple to watch a rout and understand it rightfully could have been several touchdowns more lopsided. That's not as evident in electoral politics.

IMO we were kind of like bumbling bank robbers who made off with $30 million and celebrated, oblivious that we left another $10-$20 million just sitting there in the one box we forgot to open.

by Gary Kilbride 2007-01-26 12:45PM | 0 recs
comments on the 7th- holy cow
Nothing about UAW influence in the 07th?!
When Schwarz first ran, in Calhoun Cty, the official Dems laid down- it was clear the fix was in for Schwarz The Party and UAW rolled for him, somehow expecting that he'd be this carefree independent operating in a vacuum in DC.
Watching this train wreck was depressing. And then they couldn't find someone to beat the winger Walberg.
So, yeah, everyone is hopeful about the 7th because its pretty close in registration and MI economy stinks and maybe like Seabiscuit, the UAW and the Dems will finally put something together. But I'd put this one in the maybe column until after a Dem has been sworn in...
by MH 2007-01-26 01:04PM | 0 recs
Re: House 2008: Michigan Target
Problem is there is no awareness, concern or support for anything that is MI.  I don't hear Stabenow or Levin yelling about NAFTA or  unemployment extensions for MI. Instead, we have Stabenow voting for the stupid bankruptcy bill when half the homeowners in are state are looking at foreclosures.  NAFTA retraining dollars??  What a joke.  MI doesn't have enough to go around, people are waiting in lines for retraining money (and then retrain for what since they are shipping ALL of the good paying jobs overseas)so much for Clinton's promise to the UAW.
We had races being run against incumbent Republicans by inexperienced and unfunded Dems that just about won anyway.  No, the DCCC and the blogs will never get another dime out of me for any candidate that isn't local to MI.  Apparently we are on our own in more ways than one.
by dkmich 2007-01-27 02:57AM | 0 recs


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