Winning With Michigan -- Four Districts to Watch

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.

This year, there are four potentially-competitive House races in Michigan: MI-08, MI-09, MI-11, and the longshot, MI-07. In the extended entry, a brief profile of each.

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.

8th District

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.

Jim Marcinkowski

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.

9th 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.

Nancy Skinner

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.

11th District

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.

Tony Trupiano

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.

Tony Trupiano, meanwhile, looks pretty good. As a candidate that has endorsed net neutrality, he's guest-hosted on the Ed Schultz show and promises to make the race competitive.

Finally, the district which I care the most about, as it includes my home:

7th District

Fred Strack
Sharon Renier
Chuck Ream
Daryl Campbell

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.

Michigan's ActBlue page.

(Also, I'd like to thank Michigan Liberal and its founder, Matt Ferguson, for providing a great resource of information about all these races.)

Tags: House 2006, MI-07, MI-08, MI-09, MI-11, Michigan (all tags)



Re: Winning With Michigan --

the last three are definately safe republican, and it would be generous to label rogers as republican favored at this point.

by yomoma2424 2006-06-01 08:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Winning With Michigan-- Strack for Congress

Fitzy, great post! No one has been paying much attention to Michigan's congressinal races yet. I've been spending quite a bit of time on the phone with Fred Strack in the last couple of days and he's an incredibly impressive guy. Michigan-- and our country-- would be so much better off to have someone like him in office instead of that make-believe moderate Schwarz.

by DownWithTyranny 2006-06-01 06:36PM | 0 recs
Bringing auto makers on board with progressives

I'm been waiting for someone to successfuly make the pitch for universal single payer health care to the US auto manufactures. Once it's made clear to them how it would lower their costs and help them compete with imports from countries that already have universal health care and thus lower overheads I believe we should be able to get at least some of them on board.

Demonstrating how universal single payer health care would be benefical to American businesses--as well as to individuals in the workforce--is a great way for progressives to come at the issue and to make it clear that we're not "anti-business."

The Global Warming/Alturnative energy debate has been moving along that supporting business track and picking up steam with not just talking about the risks of global warming, pollution, cancer, addiction to foreign oil and the cost for consumers at the pump. Also increasingly talked about are the signifigant opportunites for job creation and for American industry to lead the way in new alturnative fuel technologies that can be marketed globally and that will add many billions of dollars to the economy.

I believe that clearly demonstrating how progressive policies are good for everyone--individuals AND business alike--will build ever increasing levels of support behind us.

by Quinton 2006-06-01 11:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Winning With Michigan -- Four Districts

Great post! It would add something more to your post if you provided the latest fundraising figures for each of the races in question. So, I've done that for you.



Mike Rogers (R)

Raised:   $734,879  
Spent:   $463,525  
Cash on hand:   $999,919  

James Marcinkowski (D)

Raised:   $145,674  
Spent:   $28,767  
Cash on hand:   $116,907  


Joe Knollenberg (R)

Raised:   $1,272,685  
Spent:   $640,683  
Cash on hand:   $1,071,173  

Patricia Godchaux (R)

Raised:   $159,031  
Spent:   $30,338  
Cash on hand:   $128,692  

Nancy Skinner (D)

Raised:   $103,151  
Spent:  $14,027  
Cash on hand:   $94,961


Thad McCotter (R)

Raised:   $466,942  
Spent:   $124,678  
Cash on hand:   $446,573  

Tony Trupiano (D)

Raised:   $28,696  
Spent:   $14,532  
Cash on hand:   $14,163  


Joe Schwarz (R)

Raised:   $811,401  
Spent:   $619,339  
Cash on hand:   $333,613  

Tim Walberg (R)

Raised:   $343,245  
Spent:   $42,032  
Cash on hand:   $304,199  

No Democratic canidates have filed any fundraising reports.

by Quinton 2006-06-01 11:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Winning With Michigan -- Four Districts

Thanks Quinton. Totally slipped my mind. Hopefully the next quarter's fundraising will be somewhat better for the Democrats, as we try to overcome the incumbency advantages.

by Fitzy 2006-06-02 05:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Winning With Michigan -- Four Districts to Wat


I agree with DownWithTyranny, nice post and Fred Strack is a great candidate in the 7th. The problem with this district is that Democrats have not gotten serious about fighting here. I was talking with a Dem the other day who still believes Schwarz is OK. Joe will continue to spin that he is a moderate and many will be taken.

The only way to change opinion is with stories like this and money to get the word out. Help Fred by giving at

by dougm 2006-06-08 05:14AM | 0 recs


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