Winning With Michigan -- Four Districts to Watch
by Fitzy, Thu Jun 01, 2006 at 08:20:22 AM EDT
Ah, Michigan... home of beautiful lakes, the once-thriving automotive industry, and Democrats like John Conyers and John Dingell. It's gone for Democratic presidential candidates since 1992, has two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor. Yet, somehow, this lean-blue state has only six Democratic congressmen, versus nine Republicans.
Gerrymandering may have made it difficult to elect Democrats in the past, but 2006, we are rapidly discovering, will not be an ordinary year. As we seek strategies to retake the House this fall, the promising Northeast Strategy reminds us that there are lots of blue states where we should be winning.
Three of the four districts were profiled in a Detroit Free Press article last month, with brief summaries of each race. Below, I've included those summaries with my own commentary.
In a district split between the liberal environs of Lansing and East Lansing and the conservative enclaves of Livingston, Clinton and northern Oakland counties, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers won a narrow victory in 2000 against veteran legislator Dianne Byrum. His margins grew in his two re-election bids.
But Jim Marcinkowski, 50, a Lake Orion attorney and former CIA agent, has credentials creating a buzz among Democrats. He has raised more money than any other Democratic challenger in the state and kicked off his campaign with a visit from former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was a classmate of Marcinkowski in CIA training.
Incumbent Mike Rogers also has more than just Marcinkowski to worry about-- he's got a primary challenge, coming from the right with Patrick Flynn. He's a "traditional values," extreme pro-life Republican, who could make some noise between now and the August 8th primary. But Rogers has the important endorsements (Right to Life, NRA, etc.), and Flynn will probably be nothing more than an annoyance.
Jim Marcinkowski, however, is a much stronger candidate. With experience in the CIA, as a lawyer, and connections to the all-important auto industry, he's a great choice to represent this district. In the first fundraising quarter, he also narrowly outraised the incumbent-- not bad, for a hopeless district.
Stretching from the southwest to the northeast corners of Oakland County, the district has long been considered a Republican stronghold, boasting some of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Knollenberg has been in the seat since 1993.
But changing demographics in Oakland have turned portions of the district -- Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, Royal Oak and Pontiac -- into more fertile ground for Democrats.
Four Democrats -- Skinner, John Ashcraft, Rhonda Ross and Frank Cona -- are running and have already held several debates.
Skinner quit her job as a popular, left-leaning talk show host to run full time. When Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean came to town in 2005, Skinner was the emcee. She has gained the backing of large labor unions and has raised more money than the other Democrats.
Things have changes some since that article was written; with the filing deadline passed and the withdrawal of John Ashcraft, Nancy Skinner is the Democratic nominee. It's an evenly-split district, and so far Skinner's fundraising has been impressive. As an added benefit to the Netroots, she's a blogger.
Incumbent Joe Knollenberg, meanwhile, has some problems. Former State Representative Patricia Godchaux is challenging Knollenberg from the moderate end of the Republican Party, and could mix things up. While Knollenberg will probably win the primary, it's certainly worth watching when the Democrats have united and the Republicans are divided. As Knollenberg is "arguably the state's most powerful Republican" and the district is trending Democratic (Kerry got 49%, Gov. Granholm won it in 2002), this district is worth winning.
The district is a mix of blue-collar suburbs and upscale subdivisions in northwest Wayne County and southwest Oakland. Its baseline politics -- based on whom voters choose in state Board of Education races -- is the least clear-cut Republican of the three districts. But McCotter easily won election to the new district in 2002 and was re-elected by a wide margin in 2004.
That's not stopping Tony Trupiano, also a liberal former radio talk show host. The Dearborn Heights resident has held several fund-raisers and is hosting an event today featuring former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. In his 2002 defeat, Republicans portrayed Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in the war, as unpatriotic and a terrorist sympathizer.
Thad McCotter, staunch defender of Tom DeLay, must be embarrassed to be getting a strong challenge, since he drew his own district when he was in the state Senate. In a district trending Democratic (Kerry got 47%), McCotter is almost a posterboy for lobbying reform. Oh, and he's the lead guitarist for an all-congressman band called "The Second Amendments." Seriously.
Finally, the district which I care the most about, as it includes my home:
Where the other three races have only one Democratic candidate and a fairly organized party, the 7th suffers from four candidates and a pretty weak party. This is, I admit, a longshot race, but it's also too good an opportunity to pass up.
Freshman Congressman and veteran politician Joe Schwarz campaigned in 2004 as a moderate, McCain-esque maverick in the six-way GOP primary, beating five conservative candidates with a whopping 28 percent of the vote. He was, by no means, the choice of most Republicans, but went on to win 58-36 over Sharon Renier (running again this year).
This time, he has all the advantages of incumbency, but is being challenged from the far-right by Tim Walberg, one of the candidates he defeated in 2004. Walberg, seeking to unite the conservatives against the "liberal" Joe Schwarz, has enlisted the help of the Club For Growth in his crusade. Schwarz, meanwhile, has abandoned his independent style to become yet another loyal Republican, winning the endorsement of President Bush and various other leading Republicans. This primary has already gotten pretty ugly.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have fielded four candidates with... well, potential.
Fred Strack (my personal choice) is a naval veteran and has connections to the auto industry. He's got a three-part platform right now of ending corporate corruption, bringing jobs to Michigan, and leaving Iraq as soon as practical to refocus on the War on Terror.
Sharon Renier is an organic farmer and the 2004 candidate, surprising many by winning the primary. She's rather left-leaning, and performed poorly last election because she refused to raise and spend money, making that a campaign issue. This time, however, she promises to run a strong campaign.
Chuck Ream is a Scio Township trustee and former kindergarten teacher. He supports a variety of liberal stances, including legalization of medicinal marijuana. Needless to say, I'm not confident of his chances in this particular district.
Daryl Campbell, an army veteran and police sergeant, has been rather quiet, and, unfortunately, his website is not particularly encouraging. That said, he has support in Washtenaw county and may surprise us in the primary.
With a weakened Republican candidate regardless of how the primary goes on August 8th, this is a district where a Democrat could really step up and have a chance. It would also be a district that would send a message of change this election, as it includes Jackson, Michigan. Jackson is where the Republican Party started, way back in 1854.
Each of these districts is potentially winnable, and this year, maybe all four could be won. At any rate, they're certainly worth watching.
(Also, I'd like to thank Michigan Liberal and its founder, Matt Ferguson, for providing a great resource of information about all these races.)