House 2008: Michigan Target-Rich Territory for House Dems
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Jan 25, 2007 at 10:30:47 PM EST
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.