Sunday, August 27, 2006

Michigan U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

August 27, 2006
72 Days Until Election Day

Michigan U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

There was a time within the past couple of years when Republicans believed they would be able to make a serious run at defeating freshman Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow. However, the process of finding a strong opponent to take her on took several twists and turns. A Republican Congresswoman, who had previously been a top statewide vote getter declined to run for either U.S. Senate or Governor and a couple wealthy business, capable of self-funding, in the mold of Gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos also declined. Hopes were raised when Michael Bouchard, the popular elected Sheriff of Oakland County announced he would be a candidate, only to quickly then announce he would not run after all due to a health concern.

For a while, there was a serious buzz about the candidacy of a charismatic conservative African-American minister who was formerly elected citywide in Detroit as the kind of Republican who could bring in a lot of non-traditional GOP voters. However, Keith Butler’s staunch social conservatism was such that there were concerns that he would lose a lot of votes in the suburbs that would have a better chance of going Republican with another candidate. Eventually, Bouchard announced that his health concerns were allayed and he jumped back into the race with the support of the NRSC, while several prominent Michigan and national Republican figures remained loyal to the Butler candidacy. When all was said and done earlier this month, Bouchard defeated Butler by a comfortable margin in the primary and there does appear to be a good deal of Republican unity in the state behind the Bouchard candidacy.

To the surprise of many, polls taken immediately after the primary showed Bouchard, who had formerly been trailing Stabenow by a wide margin, into a much stronger than expected showing, only trailing by between 5 and 7 points with the incumbent being held under 50 percent. A couple more recent polls have since put Stabenow up a somewhat larger margin, indicating that some of Bouchard’s post-primary bounce may have worn off. Still though, many believe that the idea that this race is “safe” for Stabenow is clearly not now the case as she still manages to be at just about 50 % in all polls.

Michigan is a state that has seen Democrats perform well in the past couple election cycles but Stabenow has not cut a strong profile during her first term in the Senate. The incumbent Democrat Governor of Michigan is even more vulnerable and it is conceivable that some of Governor Granholm’s problems, and some tension between her and the Democrat Mayor of Detroit could also spread to other Democrats on the ticket, including Stabenow, but it will be easier for Republicans to defeat a Democrat incumbent Governor based on conditions within the state than fighting against a potential trend against Republicans on the national level in a federal race.

As was mentioned in the discussion of the Gubernatorial race in the Wolverine State, the changes within organized labor may have the effect of harming the Election Day GOTV activity on behalf of Democrats and such a factor may be hard to see in the polls. The vote turnout ability of such conservative groups such as Michigan Right to Life are pretty impressive and could play a large role in both statewide races as well.

At this point in time, Stabenow clearly has a lead, but Bouchard is said to be a good candidate, with an appealing background in law enforcement, who made a stronger than expected showing in what was supposed to be a tough primary election and if he runs a flawless campaign, things could get very tight in the weeks ahead. If instead, polls show Stabenow regaining a consistent double-digit lead, this race may fall further off the political radar as Republicans will be far more concerned about other races that are closer. Hope remains for now though that Bouchard can turn this contest into a sleeper, where at the very least, Democrats are forced to spend some resources to defend a seat they absolutely must win, if they intend to have a good Election Night.

Bouchard campaign link:

2006 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 8 D, 3 R
Post-election Senate balance of power predicted thus far: 35 D, 43 R